Stupid Story Claiming Google Tracking — Plus the USA Healthcare Nightmare


I’ve been receiving many queries as to why this blog and my lists have been so quiet lately. I would have preferred to say nothing about this, but I don’t want anyone concerned that they’ve been dropped off a list or are otherwise being subjected to technical issues. The lists are OK, the servers are running for now, and there’s nothing associated amiss at your end.

The executive summary of what’s going on is that I’m not well — I’ll spare you the details — and it’s unclear what I can do about it, given the dismal, insane state of health insurance in this country, especially for persons like me who have to deal with the collapsed individual medical insurance market (that is, who don’t have an employer, and so don’t have employer provided medical insurance).

The GOP and Satan’s Sociopath in the Oval Office are working deliberately to destroy health insurance and ruin lives for the sake of enriching their uber-wealthy, vile brethren. But even without those deliberate efforts at sabotage, the healthcare system itself has already utterly collapsed for vast numbers of people without steady incomes and who are too young or don’t qualify for Medicare — which the GOP is also working to decimate. The holes in Obamacare/ACA are big enough to toss the moon through, creating horrific “Catch-22” nightmares for persons with very low income levels and who cannot reasonably see into the future to predict their next year’s income.

The upshot of all this is that I simply cannot physically keep up under these conditions, and these public venues will be very quiet until such a time, if ever, that the overall situation changes. Sorry about that, Chief.

Since I was sending this item out anyway, I wanted to mention one rather crazy tech story going around currently. Obviously there’s been any number of technology issues recently about which I’d ordinarily have said something — most of them depressing as usual.

But there’s one in the news now about Google that is just so stupid that it can make your head explode, a “Google is secretly tracking your phone” scare piece. 

And as usual, Google isn’t addressing it in ways that ordinary people can understand, so it’s continuing to spread, the haters are latching on, and folks have started calling me asking about it in panic. 

Sometimes I think that Google must have a sort of suicide complex, given the way that they watch again and again how these sorts of stories get out of control without Google providing explanations beyond quotes to the trade press. Newsflash! Most ordinary non-techies don’t read the trade press!

Yeah, I know, Google just hopes that by saying as little as possible that the stories will fade away. But it’s like picking up comic strips with Silly Putty (anyone else remember doing that?) — you can keep folding the images inward but eventually the entire mass of putty is a dark mass of ink.

You’d think that with so many opportunistic regulatory and political knives out to attack Google these days, Google would want to speak to these issues clearly in language that ordinary folks could understand, so that these persons aren’t continuously co-opted by the lies of Google haters. I’ve done what I could to explain these issues in writing and on radio, but as I’ve said before this should be Google’s job — providing authoritative and plain language explanations for these issues. It’s not something that Google should be relying on outsiders to do for them willy-nilly.

The latest story is a lot of ranting and gnashing of teeth over the fact that Android phones have apparently been sending mobile phone network cell IDs to Google. Not that Google did anything with them — they’ve been tossing them and are making changes so that they don’t get sent at all. The complaint seems to be that these were sent even if users opt-ed out of Google’s location services. 

But the whole point is that the cell IDs had nothing to do with Google location geo services, but are related to the basic network infrastructures required to get notifications to the phones. It’s basically the same situation as standard mobile text messages — you need to know where the phone is connected to the network at the moment to effectively contact the phone to send the user a text message or other notifications, or even an ordinary phone call!

In a response apparently aimed at the trade press, Google talked about MCC and MNC codes and related tech lingo that all mean pretty much NOTHING to most people who are hearing this “tracking” story. 

Let me put this into plain English.

If your cell phone is turned on, the cellular networks know where you are — usually to a good degree of accuracy these days even without GPS. That’s how they work. That’s how you receive calls and text messages. It’s a core functionality that has nothing to do with Google per se.

You know all those news stories you see about crooks who get caught through tracking of their cell phones via location info that authorities get from the cellular carriers? 

Have you ever thought to yourself, “Why don’t those morons just turn off their phones when they don’t want to be tracked?”

It’s not Google that you need to be worried about. They have powerful protections for user data, and are extremely, exceptionally strict about when authorities can obtain any of it. On the other hand, the cellular carriers have traditionally been glad to hand over largely any user data that authorities might request for virtually any reason, often on a “nod and a wink” basis. You want something to worry about? Don’t worry about Google, worry about those cellular carriers.

Nor do you need to be a crook to turn off your phone when you don’t even want the carriers to know where you are. You want to use local apps? Fine, instead of turning the phone off, disable the phone’s radios by activating the “Airplane Mode” that all smartphones have available. 

This is all of the writing that I can manage right now and will probably be all that I have to say here for an indeterminate period. I can’t guarantee timely or even any responses to queries, but I’ll try to keep this machinery running the best that I can under the circumstances.

The best to you and yours for the holiday weekend and for the entire holiday season.

Please take care.

–Lauren–

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