Tag Archives: paranoia

Hotmapping Haringey

Spy Planes Over North London

Haringey heat mapFunny how the US blogs often get the scoop on news happening just round the corner. Or maybe it’s just that the Haringey Independent doesn’t think Spy Planes Over Haringey is lurid enough to rate a headline. Anyway. The ever-excellent BLDGBLOG reports that the Borough has employed top-notch spook gear to create a street-by-street map of energy squanderers:

An aircraft, fitted with a military-style thermal imager, flew over the borough 17 times to take pictures of almost every house in the area. Footage of heat loss was converted into stills, then laid over a map of the area, before each house was given colour-coded ratings. Homes that were losing the most heat were represented as bright red on the map. The least wasteful households were shown in deep blue. Shades of paler blues and reds were used to show grades of heat loss.

Evidently, the process is called hot-mapping, which has a suitably CSI-meets-24 milspeak ring to it.

The maps are available online.

Call us suspicious, but the last time we heard tell of government using such technologies on their unsuspecting citizens, it was to track the infrared footprint of the local indoor dope farms. But I’m sure that doesn’t go on in Haringey. Ever. Especially in those oh-so hot terraces on Cecile Park (see above).

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What Goooogle Knoooows about Yoooou

Is there any part of our lives online and offline that Google doesn’t know about?

People laughed when we reported on that anecdote a while back that Google was developing an artificial intelligence. Well — it doesn’t seem so ludicrous now does it? This nice post points out exactly what Google knows about us at any one time. And it’s A LOT.

Bits that we’ve hacked out of the post:

With its acquisition of Feedburner, Google now controls the leading company for managing RSS feeds. Thus, Google knows everything about my readers – how many of them there are, where they come from, and how they access my content. How might Google use this information? Targeting ads in my feeds based on context or geography sounds like a start, but using cookies the company could also theoretically collect data on my readers and better tailor ads to them throughout Google’s product line.


With an estimated 30% market share (based on bloggers, many of whom use Google-owned Blogger, reporting statistics from the now Google-owned Feedburner!), Google Reader is one of the most popular tools for aggregating RSS feeds. By knowing the blogs and news sites I read, Google can tailor ads to my preferences. Additionally, Google could use this data to customize my search results by favoring sites similar to those to which I subscribe.


Through Gmail and Gchat, Google knows everyone I contact. While you can turn a chat session “off the record,” Gmail’s 2.859GB (and counting!) of storage provides enough space so most people never need to delete a message. Thus, Google has both a history of all of my emails and chats, and can also make inferences about my strongest connections are based on how frequently I correspond with them


While Google’s photo sharing application Picasa is far from a market leader, with its purchase of YouTube and its homegrown Google Video product, Google is the undisputed dominant player in online video. Thus, Google knows not only what I search for, but what I produce.

(Around here is where it gets scary … )

Hopefully you’re not so unlucky to be one of the guys photographed leaving the strip club or adult book store in the new Google Street View feature, but there is a good chance your house or workplace can be seen via satellite in Google Maps. Additionally, Google Maps competes with MapQuest, Yahoo, and a host of others for providing driving directions, so they have a good idea of the places you frequent.


While Google is still in the early stages of building out its suite of Office-like applications, their ambitions have become fairly clear. With Docs & Spreadsheets, an upcoming PowerPoint competitor, and partnerships with the likes of Intuit and Salesforce.com, Google is spreading its tentacles far and wide in the business applications space, gaining knowledge into what you do, your finances, and who your contacts are.

With thanks to Adam Ostrow, whose post “MySoul, and 10 Other Things that Google Owns” this is based on.

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Cat Visible on Google Maps Shock

But it’s not the size of the cat that’s the issue…

Goodies Kitten Kong toppling the Post Office Tower

Google Maps’ new Street View feature provides a street-level view of buildings, composited from images filmed by camera trucks which have explored and photographed every alley and byway of — for the moment at least — a few major American cities. Street View is an early outrider of a new wave of digital services which take ‘pervasive’ to a new level. Pervasive, or invasive? To Oakland, California resident Mary Kalin-Casey, the sight of her cat Monty peering out her second-story window in the Street View panorama of her apartment block meant that Google had peered a few pixels too far into her private world. According to a New York Times report:

“The issue that I have ultimately is about where you draw the line between taking public photos and zooming in on people’s lives,” Ms. Kalin-Casey said in an interview Thursday on the front steps of the building. “The next step might be seeing books on my shelf. If the government was doing this, people would be outraged.”

Her husband quickly added, “It’s like peeping.”

“Quickly”, one assumes, as the stopwatch is obviously running out on their 15 minutes of zeitgeisty fame.

Concerns about privacy are understandable — but the real issue here is what happens when this information gets mashed up with the rest of the digitally-tagged world-of-tomorrow-afternoon. Close your curtains, hunker down behind the sofa with your cat and laptop, and stay tuned.

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Google Fear

BusinessWeek ponders the power of Google a good year after we did…

In the article, BusinessWeek writes about the GoogleZon film (old news) and asks, “Is Google Getting Too Powerful?”

Sound familiar?

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A Good Deed from the Mechanical Turk, But…

…who watches the watchmen?

Whoah. This out-Bruckheimers CSI. TechCrunch reports that:

When famous computer scientist Jim Gray went missing a few days ago, the coast guard launched a large scale search that found absolutely nothing. On Thursday, they gave up.

Then Amazon stepped in. They arranged for a satellite sweep of the area and stored the images on their S3 storage service. They then created a task on their Mechanical Turk service to allow volunteers to scan the images to look for the boat. It’s a tough task — the boat would only be about six pixels in size in an image, and there was a lot of cloud cover obscuring large parts of the area scanned. But volunteers are pouring in to help out.

That’s pretty amazing. But to us, the most amazing thing is the phrase [Amazon] arranged for a satellite sweep of the area [...].

Reality check, folks: this suggests that in 2007, an online bookshop has sufficient clout to book time on Low-Earth-Orbit surveillence satellites. You know, the kind that are handy plot devices for Tom Clancy and the writers of 24. What next? Some crowdsourced triangulation of my cellphone location arranged by eBay’s Special Ops team in preparation for an airstrike using A10s leased from the US Airforce by PayPal?

People, we live in scary scary times. But we hope they find Jim alive.

[UPDATE: OK, turns out the satellite is run by commercial 'remote sensing' business DigitalGlobe, not the military. We're not sure if we find that reassuring, or the other thing...]

[UPDATE 20070208: One of the project members emailed us anonymously to clarify exactly what took place: in his/her words:

Gizmodo got this 100% completely and totally wrong: Amazon didn't "arrange" for anything.

The New York Times piece on the search gets this correctly: a group of very high-powered Silicon Valley people (like Sergey Brin) helped get several other groups like Digital Globe and NASA to do satellite passes. MechTurk was just a clearinghouse for doing the work.

I think the confusion comes from Amazon CTO Werner Vogels' blog where he said a few days ago that "Through a major effort by many people we were able to have the Digital Globe satellite make a run over the area on Thursday morning and have the data made available publicly." The "we" there wasn't Amazon, it was probably a dozen people at various companies helping coordinate that effort.

Thanks for the email!]

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Fear of a Google Planet

Is Google getting too big and too scary?

Google Base, Google Video, Google News, Google mail … It’s all getting very Googlefied out there. This week, Wired published a nice precis of exactly what Google is up to and who feels threatened. A quicker fear fix is available via the short film Googlezon which we featured a while back and which managed to even freak out Rupert Murdoch.

In a more recent twist of Google Fear, historian Charles Dyson alleges that Google’s book scanning project has a far loftier purpose than any of us imagined — the creation of artificial intelligence. Dyson has written about his visit to Google’s HQ:

My visit to Google? Despite the whimsical furniture and other toys, I felt I was entering a 14th-century cathedral — not in the 14th century but in the 12th century, while it was being built. Everyone was busy carving one stone here and another stone there, with some invisible architect getting everything to fit. The mood was playful, yet there was a palpable reverence in the air. “We are not scanning all those books to be read by people,” explained one of my hosts after my talk. “We are scanning them to be read by an AI.”

Dyson’s treatise on the power of Google is readable in full on Edge.org.

UPDATE: In an Economist article on Google published 14th Jan 06, Paul Saffo at the Institute for the Future had this to say:

Google is a religion posing a company… they’re trying to build the machine that will pass the Turing test (in other words, an artificial intelligence that can pass as human in written conversations).

You read it here first.

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