In Support of Google’s Progress On AI Content Choice and Control

Last February, in:

Giving Creators and Websites Control Over Generative AI

I suggested expansion of the existing Robots Exclusion Protocol (e.g. “robots.txt”) as a path toward helping provide websites and creators control over how their contents are used by AI systems.

Shortly thereafter, Google publicly announced their own support for the robots.txt methodology as a useful mechanism in these contexts.

While it’s true that adherence to robots.txt (or related webpage Meta tags — also part of the Robots Exclusion Protocol) is voluntary, my view is that most large firms do honor its directives, and if ultimately moves toward a regulatory approach to this were deemed genuinely necessary, a more formal approach would be a possible option.

This morning Google ran a livestream discussing their progress in this entire area, emphasizing that we’re only at the beginning of a long road, and asking for a wide range of stakeholder inputs.

I believe of particular importance is Google’s desire for these content control systems to be as technologically straightforward as possible (so, building on the existing Robots Exclusion Protocol is clearly desirable rather than creating something entirely new), and for the effort to be industry-wide, not restricted to or controlled by only a few firms.

Also of note is Google’s endorsement of the excellent “AI taxonomy” concept for consideration in these regards. Essentially, the idea is that AI Web crawling exclusions could be specified by the type of use involved, rather than by which entity was doing the crawling. So, a set of directives could be defined that would apply to all AI-related crawlers, irrespective of who was doing the crawling, but permitting (for example) crawlers that are looking for content related to public interest AI research to proceed, but direct that content not be taken or used for commercial Generative AI chatbot systems.

Again, these are of course only the first few steps toward scalable solutions in this area, but this is all incredibly important, and I definitely support Google’s continuing progress in these regards.


Radio Transcript: Google Passkeys and Google Account Recovery Concerns

As per requests, this is a transcript of my national network radio report earlier this week regarding Google passkeys and Google account recovery concerns.

 – – –

So there really isn’t enough time tonight to get into any real details on this but I think it’s important that folks at least know what’s going on if this pops up in front of them. Various firms now are moving to eliminate passwords on accounts by using a technology called “passkeys” which bind account authentication to specific devices rather than depending on passwords.

And theoretically passkeys aren’t a bad idea, most of us know the problems with passwords when they’re forgotten or stolen, used for account phishing — all sorts of problems. And I myself have called for moving away from passwords. But as we say so often, the devil is in the details, and I’m not happy with Google’s passkey implementation as it stands right now. Google is aggressively pushing their users currently, asking if they want to move to a passwordless experience. And I’m choosing not to accept that option right now, and while the choice is certainly up to each individual, I myself don’t recommend using it at this stage.

Without getting too technical, one of my concerns is that anyone who can authenticate a device that has Google passkeys enabled on it, will have full access to those Google accounts without having to have any additional information — not even an additional authentication step. And this means that if — as is incredibly common — someone with a weak PIN for example on their smartphone, loses that device or it’s stolen, again, happens all the time, and the PIN was eavesdropped or guessed, those passkeys could let a culprit have full access to the associated Google accounts and lock out the rightful owner from those accounts before they had a chance to take any actions to prevent it.

And I’ve been discussing my concerns about this with Google, and their view — to use my words — is that they consider this to be the greatest good for the greatest number of people — for whom it will be a security enhancement. The problem is that Google has a long history of mainly being concerned about the majority, and leaving behind vast numbers of users who may represent a small percentage but still number in the millions or more. And these often are the same people who through no fault of their own get locked out of their Google accounts, lose access to their email on Gmail, photos, other data, and frankly Google’s account recovery systems and lack of useful customer service in these regards have long been a serious problem.

So I really don’t want to see the same often nontechnical folks who may have had problems with Google accounts before, to be potentially subjected to a NEW way to lose access to their accounts. Again it’s absolutely an individual decision, but for now I’m going to skip using Google passkeys and that’s my current personal recommendation.


Google is making their weak, flawed passkey system the default login method — I urge you NOT to use it!

Google continues to push ahead with its ill-advised scheme to force passkeys on users who do not understand their risks, and will try push all users into this flawed system starting imminently.

In my discussions with Google on this matter (I have chatted multiple times with the Googler in charge of this), they have admitted that their implementation, by depending completely on device authentication security which for many users is extremely weak, will put many users at risk of their Google accounts being compromised. However, they feel that overall this will be an improvement for users who have strong authentication on their devices.

And as for ordinary people who already are left behind by Google when something goes wrong? They’ll get the shaft again. Google has ALWAYS operated on this basis — if you don’t fit into their majority silos, they just don’t care. Another way for Google users to get locked out of their accounts and lose all their data, with no useful help from Google.

With Google’s deficient passkey system implementation — they refuse to consider an additional authentication layer for protection — anyone who has authenticated access to your device (that includes the creep that watched you access your phone in that bar before he stole it) will have full and unrestricted access to your Google passkeys and accounts on the same basis. And when you’re locked out, don’t complain to Google, because they’ll just say that you’re not the user that they’re interested in — if they respond to you at all, that is.

“Thank you for choosing Google.”