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Proprietary malware → Google

Google's Software is Malware


Nonfree (proprietary) software is very often malware (designed to mistreat the user). Nonfree software is controlled by its developers, which puts them in a position of power over the users; that is the basic injustice. The developers and manufacturers often exercise that power to the detriment of the users they ought to serve.

This typically takes the form of malicious functionalities.


If you know of an example that ought to be in this page but isn't here, please write to <[email protected]> to inform us. Please include the URL of a trustworthy reference or two to serve as specific substantiation.

Back Doors

  • ChromeBooks are programmed for obsolescence: ChromeOS has a universal back door that is used for updates and ceases to operate at a predefined date. From then on, there appears to be no support whatsoever for the computer.

    In other words, when you stop getting screwed by the back door, you start getting screwed by the obsolescence.

  • Android has a back door for remotely changing “user” settings.

    The article suggests it might be a universal back door, but this isn't clear.

  • ChromeOS has a universal back door. At least, Google says it does—in section 4 of the EULA.

  • In Android, Google has a back door to remotely delete apps. (It was in a program called GTalkService, which seems since then to have been merged into Google Play.)

    Google can also forcibly and remotely install apps through GTalkService. This is not equivalent to a universal back door, but permits various dirty tricks.

    Although Google's exercise of this power has not been malicious so far, the point is that nobody should have such power, which could also be used maliciously. You might well decide to let a security service remotely deactivate programs that it considers malicious. But there is no excuse for allowing it to delete the programs, and you should have the right to decide who (if anyone) to trust in this way.

Censorship

  • Google offers censorship software, ostensibly for parents to put into their children's computers.

  • On Windows and MacOS, Chrome disables extensions that are not hosted in the Chrome Web Store.

    For example, an extension was banned from the Chrome Web Store, and permanently disabled on more than 40,000 computers.

  • Google censored installation of Samsung's ad-blocker on Android phones, saying that blocking ads is “interference” with the sites that advertise (and surveil users through ads).

    The ad-blocker is proprietary software, just like the program (Google Play) that Google used to deny access to install it. Using a nonfree program gives the owner power over you, and Google has exercised that power.

    Google's censorship, unlike that of Apple, is not total: Android allows users to install apps in other ways. You can install free programs from f-droid.org.

DRM

Digital restrictions management, or “DRM,” refers to functionalities designed to restrict what users can do with the data in their computers.

Insecurity

These bugs are/were not intentional, so unlike the rest of the file they do not count as malware. We mention them to refute the supposition that prestigious proprietary software doesn't have grave bugs.

Interference

This section gives examples of Google software harassing or annoying the user, or causing trouble for the user. These actions are like sabotage but the word “sabotage” is too strong for them.

Sabotage

The wrongs in this section are not precisely malware, since they do not involve making the program that runs in a way that hurts the user. But they are a lot like malware, since they are technical Google actions that harm the users of specific Google software.

  • Revolv is a device that managed “smart home” operations: switching lights, operate motion sensors, regulating temperature, etc. Its proprietary software depends on a remote server to do these tasks. On May 15th, 2016, Google/Alphabet intentionally broke it by shutting down the server.

    If it were free software, users would have the ability to make it work again, differently, and then have a freedom-respecting home instead of a “smart” home. Don't let proprietary software control your devices and turn them into $300 out-of-warranty bricks. Insist on self-contained computers that run free software!

  • Google has long had a back door to remotely unlock an Android device, unless its disk is encrypted (possible since Android 5.0 Lollipop, but still not quite the default).

Surveillance

  • Google “Assistant” records users' conversations even when it is not supposed to listen. Thus, when one of Google's subcontractors discloses a thousand confidential voice recordings, users were easily identified from these recordings.

    Since Google “Assistant” uses proprietary software, there is no way to see or control what it records or sends.

    Rather than trying to better control the use of recordings, Google should not record or listen to the person's voice. It should only get commands that the user wants to send to some Google service.

  • Google Chrome is an instrument of surveillance. It lets thousands of trackers invade users' computers and report the sites they visit to advertising and data companies, first of all to Google. Moreover, if users have a Gmail account, Chrome automatically logs them in to the browser for more convenient profiling. On Android, Chrome also reports their location to Google.

    The best way to escape surveillance is to switch to IceCat, a modified version of Firefox with several changes to protect users' privacy.

  • Google tracks the movements of Android phones and iPhones running Goggle apps, and sometimes saves the data for years.

    Nonfree software in the phone has to be responsible for sending the location data to Google.

  • Google invites people to let Google monitor their phone use, and all internet use in their homes, for an extravagant payment of $20.

    This is not a malicious functionality of a program with some other purpose; this is the software's sole purpose, and Google says so. But Google says it in a way that encourages most people to ignore the details. That, we believe, makes it fitting to list here.

  • An Android phone was observed to track location even while in airplane mode. It didn't send the location data while in airplane mode. Instead, it saved up the data, and sent them all later.

  • Some Google apps on Android record the user's location even when users disable “location tracking”.

    There are other ways to turn off the other kinds of location tracking, but most users will be tricked by the misleading control.

  • Android tracks location for Google even when “location services” are turned off, even when the phone has no SIM card.

  • Low-priced Chromebooks for schools are collecting far more data on students than is necessary, and store it indefinitely. Parents and students complain about the lack of transparency on the part of both the educational services and the schools, the difficulty of opting out of these services, and the lack of proper privacy policies, among other things.

    But complaining is not sufficient. Parents, students and teachers should realize that the software Google uses to spy on students is nonfree, so they can't verify what it really does. The only remedy is to persuade school officials to exclusively use free software for both education and school administration. If the school is run locally, parents and teachers can mandate their representatives at the School Board to refuse the budget unless the school initiates a switch to free software. If education is run nation-wide, they need to persuade legislators (e.g., through free software organizations, political parties, etc.) to migrate the public schools to free software.

  • Google's new voice messaging app logs all conversations.

  • Google Play (a component of Android) tracks the users' movements without their permission.

    Even if you disable Google Maps and location tracking, you must disable Google Play itself to completely stop the tracking. This is yet another example of nonfree software pretending to obey the user, when it's actually doing something else. Such a thing would be almost unthinkable with free software.

  • Google Chrome makes it easy for an extension to do total snooping on the user's browsing, and many of them do so.

  • Google Chrome includes a module that activates microphones and transmits audio to its servers.

  • Nest thermometers send a lot of data about the user.

  • Google Chrome spies on browser history, affiliations, and other installed software.

  • Spyware in Android phones (and Windows? laptops): The Wall Street Journal (in an article blocked from us by a paywall) reports that the FBI can remotely activate the GPS and microphone in Android phones and laptops (presumably Windows laptops). Here is more info.

  • Spyware is present in some Android devices when they are sold. Some Motorola phones, made when this company was owned by Google, use a modified version of Android that sends personal data to Motorola.

  • A Motorola phone listens for voice all the time.

  • Google Play intentionally sends app developers the personal details of users that install the app.

    Merely asking the “consent” of users is not enough to legitimize actions like this. At this point, most users have stopped reading the “Terms and Conditions” that spell out what they are “consenting” to. Google should clearly and honestly identify the information it collects on users, instead of hiding it in an obscurely worded EULA.

    However, to truly protect people's privacy, we must prevent Google and other companies from getting this personal information in the first place!

  • Many web sites report all their visitors to Google by using the Google Analytics service, which tells Google the IP address and the page that was visited.

  • Google Chrome contains a key logger that sends Google every URL typed in, one key at a time.

Tyrants

Tyrants are systems that reject any operating system not “authorized” by the manufacturer.

  • Motorola, then owned by Google, made Android phones that are tyrants (though someone found a way to crack the restriction). Fortunately, most Android devices are not tyrants.

TOP

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