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New study: Google manipulates users into constant tracking (forbrukerradet.no)
953 points by thg 16 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 445 comments



They constantly berate you to deactivate no tracking preferences on google maps. When you're aware of this fact you start seeing it everywhere, not just on google. For example, on Pinterest they will berate you to sign up using highlighted buttons on land, and the x button is out of the way on the top right corner.

This end result is due to product managers/devs looking at conversion rates and optimizing for whatever their metric of success is, which in this case is creating accounts and users being more "engaged" with the platform. 3 or 4 rounds of A/B testing and you get the most efficient (read: manipulative) method of getting users "engaged". There may be no intention of manipulation but using empirical evidence to achieve your metric of success will tend to make your product manipulative.


Same goes for trying to turn on Voice Match (and the voice activated OK, Google), a feature that's supposed to take a snapshot of your voice and activate the assistant, like "Hey, Siri!". They will force you to activate: 1. web/activity history, 2. saving all your voice requests to the Google and they push you to activate Location History.

While Voice Match learning the sound of your voice sounds like a completely local task, they will force you to keep a history of all your voice commands, searches and activity. Voice activation and match won't even work without that on. Even tho the assistant works just fine if you leave those off.

Not to mention all the rest of these that happen, they even push for these during your first phone activation.

I got my first Android phone this year after taking a very long break from Google phones in 2014, due to getting fed up with how much of a mess Android still was around version 5 and Google's unwillingness to fix the issues so I ended up switching to iOS for years. Now I decided to switch my second phone to an Android purely out of curiosity to see what's been happening to the platform and all these creepy-ass prompts in version 9 don't instil much confidence.


>While Voice Match learning the sound of your voice sounds like a completely local task

But voice rec is not local. The reason it asks to store your voice is because they need to send it to their backend for recognition.


But voice rec is not local

Voice rec was local until about ten years ago. You could even buy software dictation products that installed from CDROM and didn't need a network connection.

I shouldn't need a network connection to do anything voice on my own device. It should only reach out to the network for things it doesn't have local knowledge of.


Can confirm. Microsoft Speech API of ~2007 with little training worked very well for me, even across the room on a crappy microphone I hand-soldered to a 2m cable. If that worked fully off-line without a big performance penalty on mid-end 2007 hardware, it surely can work now.


If its that easy you should make an app because there's certainly a market for it. The reality is online connected services are far far better.

There's a reason voice rec has only now finally stuck.


On my iPhone, the voice keyboard works pretty well in airplane mode. Not quite as well as when it has signal, but the difference is small… with the sole exception that it recognises everything as if it is English in Airplane mode, and only uses the language of the keyboard (if different) when I have signal.


By default, iOS dictation is also online.


Yes. Is there a voice dialer for Android any more that does the voice recognition locally? There's nothing in the F-Droid store.


Furthermore many smartphones can do voice dictation while in airplane mode.


They don't need to explicitly save and store a history of every voice command to do voice recognition.


there might be implementations that don't do this for instance Siri or Bixby but that doesn't mean Googles approach is wrong.

It can be unacceptable for your privacy and security threat model but for most it makes 0 difference wether the training continuously happens in the cloud or locally on the NPU inside your phone.

Saving all the clips as much as people love to fear monger it is literally the strategy that objectively leads to the highest quality implementation on the market. Googles Assistant by far understands language most naturally and we owe that to all the free vocal training data google diligently uses.


"but for most it makes 0 difference wether the training continuously happens in the cloud or locally on the NPU inside your phone."

Sadly, nobody will ever know if this is true as the choice doesn't exist.


the choice does exist, Apple iPhone does everything privacy first, Android does things cost savings first (aka the cloud)

Most people seem to like the Google Assistant for more natural interactions and only tolerate siri for her limited uses she can do.


At this point I'm convinced they're deliberately making their captcha's impossible, to annoy me for taking anti-tracking measures.


On the plus side I've become 400% better at identifying whether or not objects are traffic lights and/or fire hydrants.


The most annoying captchas are the ones that change after selecting them. What da faq do I look like - free labor?!?!


yes.


When I have the time (or have failed ten bloody CAPTCHA's in a row), I sometimes shoot out emails to whatever website or service I am trying to use, to advocate for the removal of reCAPTCHA. Unfortunately, as long as only a few people are complaining though, a lot of websites will continue to paste in Google code blocks willy-nilly.


Right. As long as the people sending in complaints is a (much, much) smaller problem than recaptcha solves, they'll continue using it.


I came to the same conclusion 2 weeks ago. Nowadays, I have to solve the captcha 15-20 times before it lets me in. So I have started purposefully making wrong answers-road instead of car, sky instead of cross walks etc. If self driving cars end up crashing, I may have contributed to it.

Similar thing happened with YouTube too. They would always show me the same ad over and over. Even if I skip, I would get that ad multiple times in the same video. It was a political ad and it starts with one guy saying how he can't get treatment because of some medicare changes. I got so annoyed I wanted to punch the guy talking in the ad whenever I hear him.


Aren't you doing anything weird with your cookies? For me recaptcha is almost always solvable from the first try. Regarding Youtube, usually reloading the page 2-3 times allows me to skip ads, but this trick doesn't work with all videos.


Recaptcha use many kind of informations, among those is your IP address. If you are browsing through a VPN for example it may see that you are not browsing from a home IP but from a datacenter. In that case I think it assumes that you're a bot and makes it much harder to pass.


I have my Firefox set to clear cookies on exit, with NoScript and PrivacyBadger addons. Also has ad/tracking blocking at router. Not sure if any of these can trigger the above behavior. One thing to point out is I was using the same setup in a different region before and never experienced this. Only started getting it after I moved to my current location and got a new ISP. I was never using VPN when I get this captcha issue.

Regarding YouTube, forgot to mention. I was getting that ad problem with Chromecast. I cast a lot of videos with the YouTube Android app. Whenever I get that ad, I would click on the skip ad button in app (which itself takes 2-3 tries sometimes). Then 2 or 3 minutes later, it would show the same ad. After I moved to my current location, I haven't experienced this behavior yet.


I'm not doing anything weird with my cookies, I'm just refusing most of them, and preventing webpages from accessing the rest (unless I'm on the page that made those cookies), as well as hiding some of the personally identifying information my browser sends out.

Really it should be the default, and in fact most webpages have no issue respecting those settings, google's recaptcha is about the only thing that actively refuses to cooperate.


It's almost like we need regulations to counteract what are otherwise inevitable consequences of profit maximization!


No, we just need to stop buying from companies whose business model is anything other than you give them money and they give you stuff.


> No, we just need to stop buying from companies whose business model is anything other than you give them money and they give you stuff.

So, stop using the internet, then?

Uncoordinated collective economic action like you call for doesn't really work, especially when it's against the shareholder-value maximizing interest of a corporation.


I have an iPhone over an Android because Apple’s business model meets that criteria and nothing about the Android ecosystem does.

I have Roku TVs but they are set to automatically go to the HDMI input with my AppleTV. So I don’t have to use a remote that has hard coded buttons that go to the highest bidder and where half the home screen is an advertiser.

I buy business Windows PCs or laptops from the Microsoft store because they don’t look like a NASCAR car with all of the stickers and trialware.

I pay for ad free streaming services.

It’s not the “internet” that’s the problem. Websites have limited tracking ability if you use an adblocker. It’s your devices vendor that you have to worry about.


Your ad free streaming services are still collecting your data.


Aren't companies that try to sell you stuff using the same (manipulative) optimizations?


> There may be no intention of manipulation

If random airmchair commentators can see the results as manipulative I guarantee that the program managers and devs can see it too.


They don't see it as manipulative, which is the problem. They see it as "this is our product, we need a way to understand usage".


A lot of times you need to take a step back to see what you're doing. It's not always easy to do in a work environment.


It's easy to see in a work environment. It's not easy to not dismiss it in favor of a promotion carrot.


The result of this A/B testing amounts to a dark patterns.

A/B testing a user choice by manipulating him/her like that seems like a no-no.


A/B testing is the way Satan interacts with this world. Optimizing for business metrics eventually leads to dark patterns, and also provides a convenient excuse ("data says so!").



And sometimes A/B Testing is humorous.

Like when online publishers like Ars and TechCrunch A/B test headlines and pictures and I end up with a photo of singer Taylor Swift accompanying an article about Apple's iOS programming language Swift.


This end result is due to product managers/devs looking at conversion rates and optimizing for whatever their metric of success is

Just wait until the product managers and devs are taken out of the loop and A/B testing becomes automated A/B...X/Y/Z testing through AI. Web interfaces will start to look like those crazy AI-generated YouTube videos. Anything to feed the shareholders.


My big question is whether that sort of deranged AI-output look will work when it arrives. It does for Youtube videos, but they're both aimed at children and searching for maximum intensity (via both character recognition and zaniness) to hold attention.

As is, I strongly suspect we're already over-testing on frontends.

First, because frequent change has a cost in user retention, and so does instability. I get A/B tested enough that I notice it happening, or notice that instructions I give for a program don't reflect what other people on the same device are seeing. And since I use multiple Gmail accounts, I've also had the experience of different accounts falling into different branches of a significant UI test - it was a horrible and aggravating experience.

Second, because isolated tests are a terrible way of judging aggregate effects. They're not necessarily run with an eye on "irrelevant" stats, and they're almost never run against a clean, single-design baseline. (Also, they're frequently run with grotesque statistical errors like stopping tests at significance...) The risk, then, is ending up with a hodge-podge of features that produced 3% improvement on some metric but did nothing for overall value. Newsletter signups designed to improve subscriptions, which destroyed retention. Buttons locked into arms races where they improve clickthrough by cannibalizing one another's traffic. Evolved-in-isolation pages that get good responses but decrease brand recognition, and so on.

None of that means aimless AI testing won't happen; the combination of buzzword appeal and hands-off profit is probably too good to pass up. But I expect it won't be as valuable as people expect because it feeds into all the mistakes we're making already.


80% of the time, for all online services, users get the choice to opt-out from the tracking, but trackers are on by default and users are encouraged to keep them on. This is what I call the fundamental principle of privacy settings: all privacy settings are based on the assumption that the vast majority of users will not understand, care, or make an effort to toggle all the knobs to opt-out from the tracking.

This is how online services meeting the regulatory requirements and creating a positive image of being privacy-respecting, "we are giving people a choice over their data", meanwhile still allowing the unhampered collection of personal data in practice.

Or the principle can be worded as, "If everyone opt-out from the tracking in their privacy settings, our business is finished". You can opt-out, but their business model remains the same, and you are simply an outlier.

As I see it, the most interesting case study is Do-No-Track. When DNT has just became a standard, the response was mostly positive. Then something dramatic happened, Microsoft enabled DNT in IE 10 by default! Then amusingly, it triggered a total backlash from the industry. If you see the principle, it's easy to explain that.

But Microsoft surely understand this point. Then why did it decide to do this? I highly suspect Microsoft's decision was a conspiracy to intentionally kill DNT, even if most people won't active it anyway, but they may believe that having a simple and universal privacy toggle is still being a potential threat to the business of the industry, so they decided to sabotage it by making it default-on, thus nobody will treat it seriously, and Microsoft can use the "we care about your privacy" as an excuse.

One can't fix the privacy issues with a privacy setting. One needs to have an alternative business model in the age of Surveillance Capitalism.


> 80% of the time, for all online services, users get the choice to opt-out from the tracking

That's purely theoretical. My browser is sending to not track headers, I've uBlock turned on, I nearly always reject tracking, yet I periodically delete thousands of cookies.

(In case there are bored Safari extension developers who read this and feel the same: an extension that allows to whitelist cookies and rejects everything else would be nice.)


Try the (very unhelpfully named) Cookie app. It’s a little sketchy looking and the website is poorly designed but seems to work for me. Get the non-app store one.

(No affiliation, I’m also evaluating it as we speak)

https://cookie5app.com


I ran into that one last year when I tried to locate an extension, and didn't rule out buying it, but I ruled out using it because it didn't seem open source. I get that devs need to get rewarded for their time and so forth. But in this day and age where popular extensions get purchased and repurposed as spyware, I'm not keen on installing anything closed source that messes around with my browser. And it's a red flag, for me, that an extension developer doing something that revolves around privacy isn't like minded. (Plus, as you said yourself, it looks sketchy for some reason.)


I do understand this mindset (and I'm running a privacy-oriented open source app: https://getaether.net, so speaking from personal experience), however, not everything can be open source, and not everything can be free. There is a place for proprietary software, and the more we deny that, the more creators of those open source software join Googles and Facebooks of the world and make them even more invincible.

The blanket 'not open source, so I won't use it' general sentiment (not implying you have this) I see on HN nowadays doesn't hurt Google, it hurts small software makers that don't have the luxury and money to make things 'free*' with five asterisks like FAANG, like you and me, and actually strengthens the larger companies.

The trust issue is a legit one, though. I have the same concerns on that one. However, if I could fully trust it, I would have no problem with it being not open source.


It's not for Safari, but Firefox has container tabs, where this data is isolated per-container.

With the Temporary Containers extension, basically everyone gets their own container by default, and all that gets deleted 15 minutes after the container's last tab is closed.


> 3 or 4 rounds of A/B testing and you get the most efficient (read: manipulative) method of getting users "engaged"

Now replace “engaged” with “to buy stuff” and that’s essentially online advertising. You’re being tricked by gurus of the mind to send your money to someone else. How this is legal represents a gap between traditional laws and modern times.

The sad truth for us software engineers is, a lot of the most exciting work is at least tangentially related to refining this trickery: big data, machine learning, etc. For example, implementing GDPR where I work has been a bizarre experience from a human standpoint. On the one hand, we all surely feel privately it’s a good thing for people, but we talk about it to each other as if it’s a burden and a setback for our business (which it is).


> You’re being tricked by gurus of the mind to send your money to someone else. How this is legal represents a gap between traditional laws and modern times.

Eh, this has existed for decades at a macro level in over-the-air television and radio. 'If you're not paying for the product, you are the product' is a quote that has been floating around since at least the 1970s. Methods and techniques now have the ability to target you individually but the overall premise is nothing new.

> The sad truth for us software engineers is, a lot of the most exciting work is at least tangentially related to refining this trickery: big data, machine learning, etc.

Well, I'm in Aerospace and there are plenty of interesting problems to solve here that have nothing to do with "trickery"; it's just that 100 year old companies aren't "sexy" to young kids, often don't "move fast and break stuff" and frankly don't throw obscene amounts of money to bait them.


I'm a relatively fresh grad working in development for a university. It's slow. It's stable. It's not very sexy. I could probably double my salary elsewhere. But, my conscience is pretty clean for this very reason. I build tools to make university operations more efficient, not to squeeze every last drop of data from our users or manipulate them into buying a product.

There are definitely problems to be addressed in higher ed and how universities are run, but it's nowhere near Silicon Valley's lack of ethics.


In NZ I find universities are an awful mixture of academic uselessness, and corporate greed (their incentives are mostly according to number of students moving through, not benefit to the students or society).

I have seen they can be fun places to work though, depending on the politics of the department.


> Eh, this has existed for decades at a macro level in over-the-air television and radio.

Advertising predates the internet, of course. What does not is the ability to personalize advertising to the individual using computer intelligence trained on volumes of data about people’s lives, recorded in microscopic detail. I don’t think the level of manipulation and personalization pre-internet is comparable to what advertising firms such as Google and Facebook are capable of now.


Yes. 100% this. Someone's just pushing pixels around looking for some numbers to increase without actually dealing with the experience like a human.


Another one is body sensors. I disabled body sensor permission for play services. Whenever I am using Google Maps, it would complain about the permission every few minutes. Thankfully, found later an option to disable that nagging in maps setting. Maps still worked fine.


It reminds me of Android 5 where every time you enable GPS, Google shows a popup asking you to share your location with them (very annoying). And besides, there is a checkbox "Don't ask me again", but if you tick it, the "Decline" button gets disabled to ensure that you don't make the wrong choice.

[1] https://android.stackexchange.com/questions/115944/how-to-pr...


It's still there in Android 7 and it's still a travesty.

I've actively been avoiding Pinterest and Quora because I know they'll pester me about signing up an hide their content behind a soft wall. I don't share links to these sites with anyone anymore.


So what we have learned is that manipulation works.


These are the basic forces of commerce. Or any interaction. Amazon, target, even my loca coffee shops are not aligned with what’s best for me. They’re aligned with what’s best for them, with an eye towards maximizing overlap.

But where they want the customer to do something the customer wouldn’t, that happens everywhere. It’s not limited to tech.


My list of degooglifying actions:

* switch default search engine to DuckDuckGo (can still use !s bang when one wants to see what Google has)

* use tracking blocker (uBlock origin, BlockBear on iOS)

* use anonymous/private/porn mode browsing most of the time (except for sites I actually want to be logged in permanently)

* use Zoho as a replacement for shared Google docs

* use Youtube either in private window, and/or download content with youtube-dl

* use Apple Maps or OpenStreetMaps instead of Google maps, though still revert to Google maps sometimes. It's good. (But never log in, and don't use the apps).

* long ago switched to different email for main email, and forwarded gmail account to it (nobody uses it anymore). (In fact, I use a catch-all domain now (very easy to set up), and a fresh email for basically every account. Quite handy.)

* for contacts, photos, etc. I use Apple's built-in stuff. I do trust Apple a bit more (and it's a different business model; quite evidently unfortunately when you look at recent iPhone prices.)

All in all, I think a fairly degooglified life is eminently possible.


> * use anonymous/private/porn mode browsing most of the time (except for sites I actually want to be logged in permanently)

instead of this, I just use Firefox and use the Multi-Account Container function to separate my browsing


The following command can be handy for one-off sessions. It won't interfere with your already-running instance of Firefox and uses a random profile in /tmp (which you can still monkey with if needed).

  firefox -no-remote -profile $(mktemp -d)


Interesting idea. I should give Firefox another try.

(I'm also using Fluid for self-contained Facebook browsing, I suppose that would then become unnecessary).


If you use Chrome, none of the steps you listed matter as far as protecting yourself from Google. I used to use Chrome until it really struck home with me what the incentives are for the world's biggest web advertising company to own the world's most popular web browser in a world where over-the-wire auto-updates are commonplace.


yeah, it's a pity, I hear Chrome is a good browser, but since it's from Google, there's just no way I'd touch it.


There's Chromium (ungoogled Chrome, or rather the other way around I think?) and Chromium-based forks. E.g. Brave is pretty good.

There is a separate Facebook Container extension if you only need to contain FB browsing (that's basically a single container extension)


Firefox is great on desktop, but I've found it too slow and clumsy on mobile, sadly.


Opposite for me. I use Chromium on Desktop and Firefox on mobile. Firefox Focus for everyday's browsing, and Firefox Mobile for long term sessions (I have 200 opened tabs of hacker new on Firefox Mobile, it's ridiculous)

Plus, Adblock extensions on Firefox Mobile work great.


But with the ad-blocker installed, you get a bonus speed boost that doesn't apply to the other browsers...


That's why I use Brave on mobile.


I like Bromite on Android.

try Firefox Quantum in the phone. it's super slick and I've really been digging it. the workflow is the for everyone but because it supports 1pass filling the constant clear doesn't feel that bad


whoops, Firefox Focus


Great list! You forgot to mention the browser, I personally use FF and have grown to like it though I miss Chrome occasionally.

>long ago switched to different email for main email, and forwarded gmail account to it (nobody uses it anymore).

Neat! How do you set up auto forwarding with gmail?


Either Firefox is awful on windows or Chrome has something really great that I've totally missed.

Chrome on Linux is just all kinds of unpleasant, it's not even possible to use it at all with my current distro. I don't understand how everyone seems to like it so much.


When I first started using Linux day-to-day, Firefox, at least for me, was an absolute nightmare and didn't run well. I've switched to Vivaldi (Chromium-based, very power-user / I-never-want-to-move-my-hand-to-the-other-input-device friendly) for the moment, but I might just switch to Firefox again, I hadn't heard about the Multi-Account-Container feature, and that might just push me over the edge.


I've switched to FF and am mostly happy but for some reason it's terrible for videos. I'll get long hangups that never happen if I watch the same video on chrome

You can set up a filter to match all emails and have them forwarded to another address. There may even be a specific forwarding setting somewhere in Gmail.


* Replace stock android with LineageOS if your phone is on the list of supported devices [1]. It has worked great for me.

[1]https://wiki.lineageos.org/devices/


Their “April Fools” jokes made me realize the devs think my phone was just a toy and not a tool. Not that they owe me anything. Made me switch immediately to iOS.


I agree. Contemplating the switch myself - iPhone SE is pretty cheap nowadays.

That's nice but a huge chunk of android has been moved into google's closed source "play services." It's pretty much impossible for the average person to have a functioning phone without that, they don't even maintain the open source mail client any more.


I've used it for a year without Google play services.

The basic OS utilites (camera, SMS, file manager, "phone" app, etc) are part of the Lineage base and don't need play services. You can also install f-droid which has a good variety of open source apps, including mail clients.

I even installed Whatsapp (downloaded the apk from whatsapp's website), which doesn't require play services.

Now, I don't think LineageOS is for the "average person", its for people who care about their privacy and like having control of their device, but you don't need to be some sort of long-bearded hacker to be able to use it.


> I even installed Whatsapp

This just switches being tracked by Google to being tracked by Facebook. They now have names, times, numbers, etc of people you talk to/interact with, as well as your rough location via IP, access point, or cell tower (which are shared with people who have location services enabled).


That's fine. The point the parent is making is that you can use whatsapp without google play services if you want to. This is not a given for a lot of other apps.


Same here, but I added Nextcloud in the basement for dropbox/google-drive/caldav/carddav/webmail.

I do still have an Android phone (Lineage), I tried without play services... I gave up after 1 day.


> * use tracking blocker (uBlock origin, BlockBear on iOS)

You could also use Firefox Focus in iOS. It comes with a built-in ad/content/tracker blocker. Since content blockers are common to all browsers on iOS (everything using Safari/WebKit underneath), it would help other browsers too.


> use Youtube either in private window, and/or download content with youtube-dl

You can play youtube directly in major video players (mpv, vlc), at least on linux. Although, afaik, they use youtube-dl in the background.


don't forget about fingerprinting:

https://amiunique.org/fp


Any defence possible, short of using Tor permanently?


Android users are pushed through a variety of techniques:

  Deceptive click flow
  Hidden default settings
  Misleading and unbalanced information
  Repeated nudging
  Bundling of services and lack of granular choices*
Deceptive click flow is
the click-flow when setting up an Android device pushes users into enabling “Location History” without being aware of it.*

Hidden Default settings is [when] setting up a Google account, the Web & App activity settings are hidden behind extra clicks and enabled by default.

Third one is users not given sufficient information when presented with choices, and are misled about what data is collected and how it is used.

Repeated nudging is users being repeatedly asked to turn on “Location History” when using different Google services even if they decided against this feature when setting up their phone.

And finally, bundling services when for example if the user wants features such as Google Assistant and photos sorted by location, Google turns on invasive location tracking.

I would believe most of us HN crowd are fully aware of the pros and cons of such tracking and make our choices accordingly (using these tools/software/devices). However, for the majority (yes, they may not appear to be interested in privacy as yesterday's FB quarterly report shows), are they aware of how much data is being collected, how it could be misused, etc.? We, as a society, should do our part in pushing back against such indiscriminate tracking. No specific call to action. For my older parents, I have switched them to iPhone 6S and have gradually gotten older family relatives to do the same as well.


I would've liked it if they included photos and videos of these "deceptive" interactions. Instead they have this flashy video which basically is just showcasing the Timeline feature, and pretending it's some secret malicious data collection plan.


Do you doubt that the deceptive interactions they describe exist as described?

Most people do not realise how much data Google et al. collect about them, and are genuinely shocked when it is shown to them (even though, yes, it's an existing feature well known to you and most HN readers).

The video demonstrates both a) how much Google collects (which comes as a surprise to most people), and b) that most people are not aware of it (which apparently comes as a surprise to you).

> pretending it's some secret malicious data collection plan

Of course, there's the maxim that one should never ascribe to malice what can plausibly be blamed on incompetence. But sorry, if you find these repeated dark patterns throughout again and again, in apps that have been carefully designed and optimised by huge teams of people, then it is justified to speak of bad intentions.


I kinda doubt actually. Personal anecdote : I disabled location history about a year ago, and it almost never asked me to enable it afterwards, obviously they dialed it down quite a bit lately. Other claims are also hand wavy. They should include tiimestamped videos with build ids otherwise, it is horse manure.


> Do you doubt that the deceptive interactions they describe exist as described

Not so much that I doubt it, but just a piece of text is pretty subjective. I would like to see and decide for myself if it's deceptive. Not have someone's biased opinion.

> Most people do not realise how much data Google et al. collect about them

Most people also just blindly skip through the setup. There's only so much Google can do to force feed help onto users.

I actually have location sharing on with a significant other, and Google emails me about it every other week to make sure I realize my location is being shared.


> Most people do not realise how much data Google et al. collect about them, and are genuinely shocked when it is shown to them (even though, yes, it's an existing feature well known to you and most HN readers).

I was surprised (even though I should not be) when I saw how conveniently all my Amazon purchases and travel plans (flight reservations, check-in, rentals etc.) were neatly organized when I went to remove all my personal information. I understand the convenience (with Amazon - being able to track the delivery, flights - automatic calendar scheduling etc.) but oh boy does Google like to gather all the data forever.


I particularly dislike seeing buttons like "Make Google Better" that if pressed will turn on search history.

That pushed me to Firefox and "temporary container tabs" add-on. Now I _can't_ be logged in while using search, so I can't accidentally press some deceptive button that will turn on additional collection. When the tab's gone, so are all the cookies. But mail.google.com and the login domains load in a persistent tab so I can still use those.

A search link fixer add-on prevents capture of what I clicked from that search menu, and the resulting page opens in a new temporary tab separate from the one I searched Google on originally. It's a second layer of separation so that I don't have to depend _just_ on ublock/umatrix to prevent what's sent back from resulting tab from correlating.

Still not perfect, but it makes me feel more comfortable. I still don't feel comfortable enough with results from DuckDuckGo to use it by default, but it has been getting a lot closer.


I tried using Google Maps without search history turned on. It's basically a downgraded version. They tied saving locations with the search history, so it won't let you search for friends' contacts, set a home address, etc. Is it on purpose? I don't know, but I find it weird that they would tie some unrelated features together. Why does setting a Home address require search history?


> Is it on purpose? I don't know, but I find it weird that they would tie some unrelated features together. Why does setting a Home address require search history?

I work at Google but not on Maps, opinions are my own.

I don't know if this is why they did it that way, but it wouldn't surprise me if the reason was merely that 99.9% of users opt in to location sharing and the developers didn't feel it useful to spend time supporting the use case for the 0.1%.

You have to also keep in mind that Google is just a company with thousands of individuals who each have their own motives and are given incentives by the company. If a developer is career driven (and many if not most are) they have to work on "high impact" things to get a good performance review. Since Google tries to be very objective, you have to measure your impact with data and sadly 0.1% of users is not really considered impactful. Unfortunately good will earned by customers is hard to measure.

Again just my observation from working here.


>If a developer is career driven (and many if not most are) they have to work on "high impact" things to get a good performance review. Since Google tries to be very objective, you have to measure your impact with data and sadly 0.1% of users is not really considered impactful. Unfortunately good will earned by customers is hard to measure.

I find this very appropriate to modern times and employment. 'Tis A more modern update to William Gaddis's themes in J.R.


Well, in particular, if a developer "untied" these things (ie made the app more useful without signing in), and then the ratio of users who do sign in drops, then that is presumably a "bad impact" metric for the developer. Why would they do that?

It seems rather obvious that there is little incentive to provide usefulness without tying it as closely as possible to data collection.


>It seems rather obvious that there is little incentive to provide usefulness without tying it as closely as possible to data collection.

That seems about right. Other than services that you actually pay hard cash for (like gce), all other metrics will eventually trace back to some kind of ad/data related metric.


Your opinion is incorrect - it was possible to save home, work etc without agreeing to "Search & Web History" until a few months ago. Google had to add new flows on the save buttons to get this opt in from users. Anyway, there is no logical reason to need Search & Web History to store a couple of map labels.

The real impact the team was looking for was building better advertising profiles on users.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18070183


Additionally hypocritical since turning location history back on will restore your home address — Google's been keeping it all along and just denying you access to it.


Even worse. Using navigation to your home address, they will actually ask you to "Save your home address", but then pop up a permission to track your search history.

Want to use the assistant to turn on your lights? You better believe that requires the huge "Web and App activity" which also includes location.


That's nuts! As barebones as Siri is, I guess this is one of the things Apple got right with their software integration.


Wow this really does make it worse. Google is intentionally inconveniencing users who turn off location tracking, not for any technical or privacy reason but just to try to get them to turn it back on.


This seems pretty reasonable to me, although perhaps they named the switch poorly. My guess is that the product manager is trying to provide a single simple "privacy fiend" setting.

You apparently want fine-grained privacy controls ("save my personal locations, but not my search history"). It's reasonable to want that, but it seems awfully entitled (not you, but many others on this thread) to demand it. Especially since we've seen from past history that a multitude of fine-grained privacy controls tends to propagate the narrative "Evil corporation confuses users with complex privacy UI".

Product management is way harder than you are giving it credit for.


I only described my personal experience, I'm not making assumptions of evilness on Google's side, just pointing out that it feels a little restrictive. As somebody else pointed out in this thread, the information is still stored on Google's servers (favorite places, friends' addresses, even my home address is still on there), it's just all of a sudden no longer available when you disable history.

Sure product management is hard, I never said it wasn't. Google maps is wayy ahead of the competition in the field, with or without those history things (cue the whole Apple maps fiasco). But users will always complain about features they don't like, and they won't always give credit for what works.

Honestly I don't care that much, I mostly adhere to the idea that Google & co. don't give a damn about any user's individual data. To them, we're just numbers in a database, and a bunch of metrics to optimize (engagement, revenue, etc.). However, I do think that governments, once they know all this data is stored on centralized servers, are tempted to exploit it, for good reasons or not, which is why at some point I want to limit the gathering of data, when I find it is not explicitly warranted or needed. Case in point, Google Maps doesn't need a history of ALL the places I've been on a day-to-day basis to index my saved locations in it's search box.


This is disingenuous and unreasonable. The setting is unnecessarily restrictive. It's simple:

"Do you want us to store your data on our servers?"

Answering "no" should mean you store it locally, not that you don't store it at all. If you tell Google not to save your search history on their servers, they just disable it completely, when they could just save it locally.

This is nowhere near a product problem. The setting is per-account, so it's not like it'd be disabled on one device and enabled on another, so they'd get some weird UX, they just like crippling their app to force you to give them data.


> Answering "no" should mean you store it locally, not that you don't store it at all. If you tell Google not to save your search history on their servers, they just disable it completely, when they could just save it locally.

I think you are ridiculously underestimating the complexity and issues that would arise with two separate mechanisms for saving the same kind of data, and an option to switch between the two. Do you download account-saved locations locally when changing to local storage? What if there are conflicting pieces of data?

I bet there would be a lot more outraged people about the bugs and limitations that would arise with this system than there are today with your complaints.


> Do you download account-saved locations locally when changing to local storage?

No, you delete the data that's on the server. That's the reasonable way to handle a revocation of consent from the user.


Headline: "Big company degrades user experience for users who choose to opt out". I'm absolutely certain that there are people who'd get mad that their history is gone if they went from "collect it in the back end" to "collect it in the client".


Obviously. I'm asking what you do before that. Do you just throw it away? That's going to piss people off. Do you overwrite the local data? That's going to piss people off. Do you try to reconcile it? That's hard to do and messy, and probably will piss people off.


I'm not sure I understand. Overwrite the local data with what? If you have history on the server turned on, then there's only one set of data, you don't need to overwrite the local data with anything. You just keep it where it is.


> If you have history on the server turned on, then there's only one set of data, you don't need to overwrite the local data with anything.

This is a bad assumption and why you would ruin a product like google maps if given the opportunity.

Google already had this problem for years with Contacts. I had local contacts on my phone, and contacts stored in my google account. It was a complete clusterfuck of duplicates, stale data, etc. Years later after I had this problem, Google added a fairly complicated power-user tool that let you reconcile this data. And then years after that, the tool became not-a-power-user tool and wasn't bad.

But we're still talking years of issues, for data that is probably a hell of a lot less complicated than what maps stores.

edit: And that said, I still have issues every now and then with that contact reconciler tool, it doesn't always do the right thing.


I have no idea what you're talking about. I'm talking about having server history turned on and then turning it off. What's the synchronization problem you see with that? I have no idea why you're talking about contact syncing, and if you mean that you need to sync locations like you sync contacts, then how is that a problem Google doesn't already have?


Most people have multiple devices. If it's all local, how do you keep it synced? I have a work PC, home Windows PC, Macbook, linux laptop and chromebook in addition to a phone. How do I sync across devices at all times? New contact is created on one device but how does it get to the other devices if there's no common server? New work location; new restaurant; new anything? Or are you assuming everyone only has one device.

I'm sure you've got it all figured out. You should go work at google and implement it.


I don't know what you aren't getting about this: Maps already has to implement sync. Disabling location storage on the server means that they don't have to implement sync. Each device has its own history. I can't explain it more simply.


It's not that complex, especially for Google. They could use localstorage, cookies or whatever, no reason the users data has to go to Google to make personalized experiences possible.


> Answering "no" should mean you store it locally, not that you don't store it at all. If you tell Google not to save your search history on their servers, they just disable it completely, when they could just save it locally.

This is nowhere near a product problem. The setting is per-account, so it's not like it'd be disabled on one device and enabled on another, so they'd get some weird UX, they just like crippling their app to force you to give them data.

I work for Google, opinions are my own. I could go on and on about this so apologies for the long post.

Obviously I am biased, but I think you're being a little too cynical.

People's habits largely depend on the incentives given to them. There is no incentive for the Maps team to take in more data, if anything there are incentives to have less data because they'd have to go through less security and privacy reviews.

What they DO have an incentive to do is to get more users, since that largely determines how much funding your team gets. Having users share location data, admittedly at the expense of privacy, provides a superior experience.

Each team has limited funding/headcount, so obviously they would use their resources as much as possible to try and get more users. Supporting the use case you described, which is not used by the vast majority of users does not align with the incentives given to them.

Recently, Google updated its values (I can't find it externally but I hope you'll believe me). One of these values is "Respect the User". I personally think that your use case would fall under this umbrella. Ignoring whether the specific feature is the best use of engineering time even for this value, the reality is that values mean nothing without incentives.

And there aren't incentives. You don't get a great performance rating for following the values, you get one for impacting some large percentage of users or improving the performance or conversion rates.

Even if you had a team of monks, completely driven by their morals and not career-driven whatsoever, this would not be sufficient because if they didn't hit performance goals then the team would just get defunded, unless the person above them was also the same, and the person above them, and so on.


> Obviously I am biased, but I think you're being a little too cynical.

Very possibly.

> Supporting the use case you described, which is not used by the vast majority of users does not align with the incentives given to them.

I think you have causation wrong here. Users leave search history enabled because Google makes it unnecessarily hard to use the app with it disabled.

> Recently, Google updated its values (I can't find it externally but I hope you'll believe me). One of these values is "Respect the User".

I have no reason to disbelieve you.

> Ignoring whether the specific feature is the best use of engineering time even for this value, the reality is that values mean nothing without incentives.

If the values mean nothing without incentives, they aren't values, are they?

> You don't get a great performance rating for following the values, you get one for impacting some large percentage of users or improving the performance or conversion rates.

So what you're saying is "there's no incentive for allowing the user to have a good experience using the app without sending us data", or did I get that wrong? That doesn't sound awesome.

> Having users share location data, admittedly at the expense of privacy, provides a superior experience.

Especially when you don't bother providing a similar experience without people's data.

Ultimately, this isn't a question of "which would make Maps better, if users shared their data or if they didn't?". That's not your choice to make, so it's a question of "the user doesn't want to share their data, do we bother to make the experience good for them or not?"

If your answer to the latter is "No", I don't care if your values say "The User is the Alpha and the Omega, thou shalt have no other priorities before the User", it's a red herring because you aren't following your values, you're following the money.


> I think you have causation wrong here. Users leave search history enabled because Google makes it unnecessarily hard to use the app with it disabled.

That's a fair point. Nevertheless, most people on the team were not there when this feature was first introduced and we can only work from where we are now. To undo the status quo is something few are in a position to do.

> So what you're saying is "there's no incentive for allowing the user to have a good experience using the app without sending us data", or did I get that wrong? That doesn't sound awesome.

Correct.

> If your answer to the latter is "No", I don't care if your values say "The User is the Alpha and the Omega, thou shalt have no other priorities before the User", it's a red herring because you aren't following your values, you're following the money.

I think we are in agreement.

I don't think anyone is following the Values because the incentive structure doesn't align with it. I would like to believe it takes time for these changes to manifest but frankly I'm skeptical it will ever happen.

I'm not trying to convince you things are great or even okay. I just would like to dispel the notion that everyone or every team at Google is scheming together to get as much of your data as possible. Google, like any company, is made of individuals who largely are there to make money and whose actions are driven by the incentive structure. As it stands, the incentives are largely around getting more users and there is very little incentive to create privacy focused solutions (customers don't really seem to care.. or know..?)


It does, indeed, sound like we are in agreement. I'm not saying everyone in Google is evil and wants the worst for the user, but that Google doesn't really care about the user and that shows.

I guess everyone in the company is complicit to that, with a share of responsibility proportional to the amount of power they have, as with any organization...


I think it's more accurate to say Google doesn't care very much about privacy concerned users since they represent a very small portion of the user base.


> One of these values is "Respect the User".

The language here bothers me to the core. User? That's the same term drug dealers use to describe their "customers", who are nearly all captive to them or others who peddle the same thing. Does it get the point across? Sure. However, there are better ways to word this sentence, such as "respect the people who use our services" or "respect your customers", though the last one ought to read as "handle product with care".


I feel like you may have entirely dismissed the issue that location-based advertising is quite possibly, the most valuable form of advertising Google can conduct, and Google has massive incentives to collect location data. Statements like "there is no incentive for the Maps team to take in more data" feel like they completely ignore your employer's primary business model.


So I in fact work on the maps team. There is absolutely no _personal_ incentive for me (or anyone on my team) to help Google collect more location data. I will not get a bonus for it, I will not get an increased perf rating for it, any benefit I would get from it (increased stock price, I guess?) is so completely abstracted away that it simply does not register.

There is an incentive to have increased usage of the features I'm in charge of, many of which are intrinsically tied to (or superior with) location access. I don't believe that's the same as incentivizing the collection of location data, because it's not our real goal - if Apple would provide it I would absolutely love to provide users with a 'one-shot' location feature (it's probably too clumsy but the idea is when the user hits e.g. the directions button, the OS pops up a permission box and if they agree then maps gets one and only one GPS fix and then the permission is back off).


That's fair, I suppose. I just suspect resistance would appear from up above if anyone tried to make location access significantly less required.


It's simple: "Do you want us to store your data on our servers?"

Why don't you just build your own mapping software then if its all so easy?


Because then I wouldn't get inane comments from random commenters online and my life would be substantially worse.


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Yet not only are you so certain that it's hard, you're willing assign all sorts of benevolent motives to Google.

Google would change the rate at which your terminal cursor flashes if it could find a way to monetize it.


I do not try to hide my lack of authority, which is why I transparently couch my words with "it seems" and "my guess".

I don't need to speak with authority here. If you want to stoke the flames of moral outrage, the burden is on you, not me.


Yeah, but all you said was "if you didn't work on X, you can't have an opinion about X", which is a completely useless and trivially wrong statement.


I would phrase it more like "if you didn't work on X, you can't have a strong opinion about X".


Yeah. Tying setting the home address to search history is pretty sleazy and there is no good explanation for this other than bullying people into turning on tracking. I am really getting tired of companies that want to suck up every piece of data.


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By providing these services and features for free previously, they killed the majority of the competition, and only then removed the ability to use them without tracking. It's an interesting mixture of anticompetitive behavior and extortion.


Mapquest still exists, should we hold a community rally?


Either that or you weren't here for early versions of Google Maps, haven't heard of OsmAnd, Mapbox, OpenStreetMaps, etc. or you just really like calling people 'entitled'.


Very true. the first versions were very straightforward and only later on they did stuff like connecting saving a location with location tracking. From casual observation I even think they turned this on and off several times. They still show me some locations I saved years ago but I can't modify them or add new ones.

The annoying part is that google maps is really good at searching locations. None of the open source alternatives can do stuff like "Indian buffet Venice" so I often have to use Google maps to find something. Once I have the location saved I would say OpenStreetMaps apps are totally competitive.


I don't feel entitled and I rarely use them but it's still sleazy behavior. There are a lot of people who don't understand what consequences using Google or Facebook has to their privacy and these companies happily prey on them.


What are the consequences? I guess I don't understand them either


Snowden put it pretty eloquently: Saying you don't care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is like saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say. I think people understand at some level that there is something wrong with companies collecting enormous amounts of data on them even if the immediate consequences are hard to describe.


One consequence is that your personal data gets sold to whoever wants to pay for it. In the long run a serious consequence will be that all the data they collect could be used by a dictatorship to suppress opposition. I am sure Hitler and Stalin would have been very happy with the data Google and Facebook have. Once you have full-scale surveillance and the means to analyze the data in a country any kind of political opposition will be very hard.


I don't feel entitled in that way, and therefore avoid using Google products, but use alternatives, some of which I have to pay for (explicitly, like more storage in the Apple iCloud, or implicitly, in more expensive devices).

Having said that, yeah, I do "feel so entitled" that I think sleazy companies should not sneakily manipulate me (and my parents, and other less technically savvy people) into divulging much more than they are aware of. Yes, imagine that, I feel entitled that companies should not manipulate me and lie to me (the carefully worded EULAs etc. do not fundamentally change that, as you very well know).

And guess what, there's the GDPR in Europe that recognises that entitlement and makes it just a bit harder for companies to do that, and I think that's a good thing.


It's even worse than that. The toggle they make you turn on in order to save an address in Maps is "Web and App Activity". This includes your search history, app activity (including third party, non Google apps) and most worryingly your location history.

So in order to have my home address saved in Google Maps, I have to let Google monitor my location 24/7, see how often I use my banking app, and which medical complaints I've been searching recently. This seems pretty excessive and I think it's designed to be so (as the article linked above suggests).

I appreciate the services Google provides but the cost is becoming excessive. A paid option (with everything enabled and no tracking at all) or at least more granular permissions seem like the bare minimum as people become more privacy conscious.


It's very stupid to me, just as a policy, and I would love if someone could explain it to me. I would understand completely if they didn't let users view traffic data or have their routing done based on traffic data if they don't share their location; don't put in your data, you don't get to take advantage of the rest of the dataset. But tying two unrelated features together like this is confusing, aggressive, and downright illogical as far as I can tell.

I think they would get back a good amount of goodwill if they did so, and would keep a large portion of the userbase on board without looking like (and being) assholes. Plenty of people use read receipts in WhatsApp, for example, in order to see others' read receipts.


Basically useless is pretty hyperbolic. Saying "Navigate to 12 John Street, Bullocks NY" is very simple. The main features work quite well without search history.

Though I'd agree setting a home address shouldn't be tied to search history, if that's the case.


Yeah, I agree it was a bit strong, I edited to "downgraded".


As manipulative as Google can be, we should keep in mind that Google Maps is incredibly useful and we get to use it for "free". Yes we pay with our data and privacy and Google can do a better job of making that transparent but we can only get so upset when we don't get the full version of a product when we don't want to give our data.


Yeah no, I rather pay a fee for that


A paid version would be great but Google would have to figure out how to judge traffic levels without location data.


Yeah I'm not saying is easier for google, but would be a net gain for everyone in the long run


There are other suppliers of traffic data outside Google.

In fact, some of Google's traffic data is based off things like police reports.


I wouldn't. I also would rather not pay a fee for wikipedia. I would rather not pay a fee for Google searches.

I'm willing to pay a fee for many things but these three services redefined the entire world's productivity levels. Maps, Search and Wikipedia are world-changing (and miraculously, Wikipedia is a non-profit and still manages to exist and be stable. Please donate if you have the means, etc.). The reason they are world-changing is because they're free.

Free: Available to everyone, everywhere, without payment or account gating. It's a huge fucking deal for the world that they are and remain free.

You want to change the world? Make something massively useful to the planet. Then, make it free.


There are plenty of paid-for satnavs. Tomtom Navigation GPS Traffic (Android)/ Tomtom GO (iOS) get good reviews for motoring. Citymapper is free and great for public transport. I'm sure there are many others.


The satnav in my car is pretty good, and doesn't violate my privacy.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find one for walking around. All the battery powered ones seem aimed at hikers, so they're loaded with great wilderness maps, but won't help me find a coffee.


OSMAND is pretty good.


It uses Openstreetmap and can work offline.


Maps is not free - as you mentioned, you pay with data.

However, there are FOSS and privacy respecting alternatives, most are based upon OpenStreetMap - wikipedia style map of the world. Some data is still lacking, but at least you yourself can fix it if you want to.


I've typed the same postcode into Maps almost every day for the past 5 years - Google, could you maybe help it be the first autocomplete result when I enter it manually?


I don't get why this is downvoted. I have the "spy on me all the time" stuff left on and I've found Google maps Autocomplete hilariously awful. Like, when I submit and get locations back it's generally okay, but the Autocomplete suggestions are just insane.

Like, they know exactly where I am all the time, why are they Autocompleting locations that are nowhere near me or any of my typical destinations?


Anecdotally, I have a few locations I put in weekly or so to make sure I have an accurate ETA or to see if one of two routes is obstructed. They autocomplete as soon as I type the first letter of either, and they're in the dropdown list of locations under either "This Week" or "Previous Searches". These are both named locations, so maybe that's different from an address?


> I've typed the same postcode into Maps almost every day for the past 5 years

That's fascinating. Why?


Home (that I won't let it remember because creeping permissions) to wherever my appointments are.


Perhaps checking shared transport schedule/platform to get back home.


it is absolutely on purpose. a workaround is you can set pins on the map. instead of a list, you have to zoom out of the map, but then you can click a pin, for example for quick directions to your home address.


Yes, as long as you are logged in. If you log out, that possibility disappears too.


Google either do or used to automatically detect your home and work based on your history. While I agree it should be settable without it, that may be the reason why they were tied.


Google either do or used to automatically detect your home and work based on your history

The iPhone does that. Or at least tries. It knows that the place I live is my wife's home, but for me it's always labeled "gym."

Apple Maps should talk to my Health app and figure out that the chances I'm at a gym are pretty much zero.


That’s a very charitable way to explain this. It’s much more likely that they want to coerce people to turn on tracking.


Quite possibly, though I have a very uncharitable reason for my guess. Google likes to go for "don't worry we'll do it automatically!" but they're overconfident and often terrible at it. This seems to happen throughout the business and is a huge downside to me. I wonder if they added the feature without thinking it'd be worth letting people set it themselves because they're so good at doing it automatically. This also has the benefit of being a decision made at a lower level rather a larger "add more tracking" push.

I've had to turn off lots of automated Google things like ticket reminders (that tell me to catch the wrong train because they can't read the email right).


Are you talking about location history or search history? All answers below seem to be talking about location history.


They appear to have fixed this in the past year. I had the same issue.


I still get asked to enable web history to set my home address: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ugdx10p8yfm24k8/Screenshot_2019020...


As of last month it still wasn't the case for me. In the end, I turned back search history on, I decided to pay the 'price' for the features.


That’s what they want and I am sure it’s very successful. Still very sleazy.


It doesn't, they "paywall" features, as they get better data and can better monetize you.

In order to have youtube app work when the screen is off, you have to pay for youtube. Its something they could provide but if they can force you to pay or give up more data (paying in a round about way) they are going to do it


> so it won't let you (...) set a home address

That's a feature for me.


It's pretty useful when you use your phone a lot for navigation / GPS. Saves you a bunch of time, but true it does have the cost of letting Google know where you live (although there are so many other ways for them to get that information that I'm not worried about that part).


I keep all my addresses as "starred" I don't set anything as home or work. I figure it will protect from a cursory db search, but anyone interested can figure out both trivially.

What pisses me off is that everytime I turn on my phone gps it defaults to "high accuracy" mode which scans all the wifi ap's around, among other things. I have to manually set it to gps chip only every time.


Your home address is never secret unless you completely disconnect from society. All the data aggregators with an entry on you will get updates soon after every move.


I have my google home set to a place I often go to. Not my home.


This dark pattern seems to be spreading. Amazon recently pushed out an update to their (beta last I knew) web app that allows you to use their smile.amazon.com charity donation through the app. But in order to turn that on, you have to turn on all the notifications the app has, including their rather constant pushes of "deals I may be interested in". They're holding you hostage to their notifications because "it's for charity!"

Not that this is news, but clearly Silicon Valley has no intention of retraining itself in any manner. Every wheedling trick in the book will be used to track you, up to and including holding arbitrary charities emotionally hostage.


Amazon finally exceeded my tolerance for slimy behavior last year, and I let Prime lapse. The amount of time and energy they have put in to making it hard to compare prices in their own goddamn store was enough by itself; behavior like this is motor-oil icing on the garbage cake.

I had to readjust a few common purchases, but I was far less habituated to them than I thought I was. Having to actually pay attention and look meant I found cheaper options. And I never cared about Video or their other goofy add-ons.

Still handy for pricing data-points when buying elsewhere, though.


Yep, let Prime lapse a year or two ago as well. Moving my business to other companies now.


What competitors are you using?


Walmart.com has stepped it up recently. Still a long way to go, and I doubt their intentions are any better, but competition is healthy.


As much as Amazon seems to be throwing their mud in consumers' collective faces, the Waltons are 100% not better people and Wal-Mart's entire success is based on exploiting low-wage workers and subsidizing your workforce through social programs.

That's like trading arsenic for cyanide.


At least you aren't getting stories about Walmart workers having to pee into bottles like Amazon workers.


Last year I spent 5 months cycling through the US. Walmart was the one place I could consistently find healthy food such as fruit at low prices.

Many other retailers have specials prices on fruit that only apply to loyalty cards holders. Obviously they track their customers.


I'm fascinated that you cycled through the U.S. Did you happen to write anything about your travels that you're willing to share? I'd love to hear your experiences seeing America.


http://cycleblaze.com/journals/burgers

I met hundreds of people and most of them were so generous with food, accommodation etc. Some even tried to give me money.


I'm late to get back to you - thanks for sharing this. This is so extensive and exactly what I was looking for!

I also like to use boxed.com for quite a few bulk items that one might otherwise find at Costco. And compared to Amazon, I have found some competitive pricing at Smart & Final for other items I used to purchase online.


Glanced at boxed.com. Is there any way to see what they have without logging in?


Nothing seems like a 1-1 Amazon replacement but buying stuff from actual online stores has worked out pretty well for me since I research products too much before I buy anyway.


Their music app is actually great, because it automatically shows lyrics for songs while they're playing. You get 2M songs with Amazon Prime, but the full library costs the same as Spotify/Google Play/Apple Music/Tidal/Pandora/etc. You can also scroll through the lyrics, and click the lyrics to seek directly to that part of the song.


Amazons search is TERRIBLE! I'm beginning to think sites that don't just let you download the catalog and search it yourself are probably trying to hide something. Amazon being the prime example of that.


> I'm beginning to think sites that don't just let you download the catalog and search it yourself are probably trying to hide something.

You know what would be a great feature? Letting you prioritize different categories, in relation to each other- on AliExpress, "fist sort by price, then by shipping arrival date" would be incredibly helpful- I'm totally willing to spend a bit more to get stuff here 20 days faster, and searching through everything for that is a PITA.


Same. Also, Target and Walmart free shipping usually ends up being 2 or 3 days for me whereas it seems Amazon now intentionally delays free non-Prime shipping to make Prime more attractive.


Prime shipping has only about a 50% 2-day delivery hit rate for me. Sometimes I order a Prime product and get it in 3-5 days. One time it was about 8 days. In most cases, delivered by the Amazon U-Haul trucks with people who pop out, toss your package against the door, then pop back in.


I think the ad-tech industry has tapped into what can only be called -- and no offense to anyone here -- "virtue signalling." There's no doubt studies done on this, hence the new "controversial" sort of nature of some of the advertising. Who knew that Gillette and Nike were so interested in social issues, and not a bottom line PNL result. In the same way, perhaps, Amazon marketing teams found some research to suggest that same "heart-string tugging" mechanism can be combined as a "sweetener" to get you to do things you otherwise wouldn't do -- like subscribe to "buy this too" notifications.


It is not a very conspicuous signal. I don't know which one of my friends use Amazon Smile. I don't think the dark pattern would work well if Amazon Smile was only social signalling. Seems to me it relies much more upon the fact that actual money is given to charities. Pretty gross of Amazon to add unrelated self serving conditions to such giving.


I think the question is whether we would prefer Amazon Smile to exist as it is or not exist at all.

Even if there is a forced advertising aspect, it makes the world better.


That line of thinking is what let Jimmy Savile run amok for decades.


what you’re pointing out is corporate social responsibility (CSR), which emerged decades ago. it’s an extension of branding, which advertising, among other marketing tools, supports.

virtue signalling is on the consumer side, where consumption of the brand has the (positive) side effect of showing how with it and magnanimous you are.

in any case, i also don’t see how it applies here (as sibling commenter points out).


Interesting, it's always good to know what the technical lingo is in these things, it helps us understand how the marketing minds think.


yes, it's interesting.

the prius is a prime example of virtue signalling used in marketing classes: honda was puzzled at why its civic hybrid wasn't selling while the prius sold like hotcakes, until it realized that the prius, with it's unique body styling, signalled virtuous environmentalism, while the civic hybrid, with it's standard civic styling, had no (additional) virtue signal.


I hear it's (also?) called 'woke' capitalism.


> Silicon Valley has no intention of retraining itself in any manner.

Historically, no industry, once became major, intended to retrain itself to be more positive to the society. If any improvement happened, it was forced from outside.


This is true, by virtue of the fact that industries cannot have intentions, only incentives. Incentives can re-align based on many forces: social, environmental, political, all of which underlie the desire for everyone to keep their jobs and/or keep their stock price high enough fill their retirement accounts.

If the "tech industry" can be considered a single entity, it appears that the incentive re-alignment is happening from all these forces at once.


So who was forcing the many famous Victorian philanthropist industrialists to build their railway and model villages, with free schools, hospitals and more for workers?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Model_village


I'm not seeing the philanthropy. They were trying to obtain effective workers without being destroyed by angry outside forces:

> The Swing Riots of 1830 highlighted poor housing in the countryside, ill health and immorality and landowners had a responsibility to provide cottages with basic sanitation. The best landlords provided accommodation but many adopted a paternalistic attitude when they built model dwellings and imposed their own standards on the tenants charging low rents but paying low wages.[3]

Also: Company Towns: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Company_town


That was definitely for their benefit of their workers rather than the greater society, and on the whole doesn't seem much different than the larger Silicon Valley companies of today.

Take Facebook for example. They have a large utopian-esque campus for the benefits of their workers. In this campus they have bikes for getting around, free bars and restaurants (and an ice cream shop), an on campus doctor, bicycle repair shop, and in fact have somehow managed to convince CBP and USCIS to visit their campus to conduct Global Entry and Visa interviews instead of the workers having to travel to an office.

Couple this with the free employee shuttle buses for employees to travel from their homes to the campus, and it seems very much like the "Model village" you described.

EDIT: Here is a link to an article (with photo tour) of their Menlo Park campus: https://www.businessinsider.com/facebooks-disneyland-inspire...


> and in fact have somehow managed to convince CBP and USCIS to visit their campus to conduct Global Entry and Visa interviews instead of the workers having to travel to an office.

Not to detract from your point, but this is a common service for employers above a certain size-- not some shady negotiation. My last few (not even close to FAANG) employers have all offered this perk.


I'm not trying to suggest it's shady, but it's clearly an employee perk that is not available to society at large. It's another effort by the company to make an "exclusive" community that benefits their employees and as a result helps retain talent for as long as possible. None of it is a philanthropic effort as originally suggested.


None of these things are shady. The parent was just using them as examples of companies trying to make their employees' lives better as a means of helping to retain them.


And these exist mostly to keep workers on campus, so that they don't need to go home as much.


Mostly God, e.g. Titus Salt is listed in that article

"Salt's motives in building Saltaire remain obscure. They seem to have been a mixture of sound economics, Christian duty, and a desire to have effective control over his workforce. There were economic reasons for moving out of Bradford, and the village did provide him with an amenable, handpicked workforce. Yet Salt was deeply religious and sincerely believed that, by creating an environment where people could lead healthy, virtuous, godly lives, he was doing God's work."

Now, God doesn't exist, so as an external motivation he's a bit of a problem, certainly it doesn't seem to make _more_ sense to cite a non-existent God as forcing Salt to build this village than it does to credit it to his basic humanity.


> Now, God doesn't exist

Do you have a definitive source for that?


The burden of proof is not on him. It is on you to prove that he does.


Without pointing a finger, but onsidering the (so-far) lost potential of this new medium - once so promising, now the dismay of so many ... it has become 'Sellout Valley'.


That improvement forced from outside is called "Disruption".

The disruptors will eventually be disrupted.


On the website I always found it quite interesting that the "if you shop on smile.amazon.com its for charity" pop-up does not contain any link to the current page on smile.amazon.com; even the domain is plain-text. You need to type it in manually in the address bar.


Anytime I see something like that I can automatically conclude that they are fundamentally unserious about the initiative.


Computer Science does not have the same heightened degree of Ethical Concern that exists in other sciences. E.g. genetic manipulation of human embryos is highly scrutinized, and action is taken when behavior that would corrupt future generations of humans is identified. Not so with CS.

CS Ethics is muted, often conflated with Corporate Ethics whose "Greed is good" line seems to have won out above other ethical mantras.


This is about corporate ethics. Just because these corporations happen to make use of computers doesn't make this a computer science issue.


Yet, computer scientists implement these systems, while being fully aware of the consequences.

If hospitals order doctors to do $BAD_THING, they protest. If an advertisement company orders computer scientists to implement $BAD_SYSTEM, they just comply.


I wouldn't call these issues matters of computer science. They're just marketing and consumer psych, and they've existed as long as businesses have.

The only difference now is that computers have enabled a level of efficient manipulation that wasn't possible before.


I believe the biological sciences have a higher degree of ethnics training than the other science fields, if only because most academic biological research requires oversight by an ethics board.

Other fields of science do not have the same heightened degree of Ethical Concern as biology, and many have less ethics training than CS programs.

For example, when I was at university, the CS program required that the students take a course in ethical topics related to computers. I believe that was due to ACS or IEEE accreditation requirements.

The physics program had no similar requirement for their students.


Somewhat more sinister, I think, is that they added a TTL on the Amazon Smile opt-in. Now, you must re-opt-in every 90 (I think) days.

Fair bet that this small change substantially hurts the effectiveness of this charity and drives a whole bunch of money back to Amazon.


Amazon used to remind me when I wasn't on smile.amazon.com back when I used to go to www.amazon.com instead sometimes. Testing it right now, it doesn't seem like they do this anymore. :(


Prompts to use Amazon Smile do still appear. It's just that the reminders don't pop up every time you visit a non-smile domain.

Haven't seen any 90-day time limit as the parent comment mentions.


Does Prime also require a re-opt-in every 90 days? oh....


Not just amazing Samsung is constantly bugging you to sign in with a Samsung account and that apps like galaxy store REQUIRE access to contacts and sms. Just to download an app..


I have never been bugged since I've set up my phone and disabled the bundled apps I didn't need. Galaxy S7 with Oreo.


Same here. Samsung does not impose anything on you especially if you don't want to use their services you are free to ignore or uninstall those apps. Theres no black UX and theres excessive notifications about transgressions like accessing mic or camera in bg.

Besides all that the android permissions system is broken on a verbage level. contacts permission is often only needed for login, like authentication but also grants permission to scrape data. so you end up with little visibility into what data you are giving up.

People end up rightfully fearing apps asking for contacts and calls and location services, when the apps just need access to some api that is bundled under vague unbrella terms like location services


Huh? Are you talking about adding a shortcut to smile.amazon.com to your homepage or do you mean the actual native app? I can add a shortcut (on iOS) to smile.amazon.com but I don’t see why that would ever send me a notification. The native iOS shopping app has no option I can find to default or even select smile. Am I missing something?

Also what does Amazon have to do with SV?


It's the native app, albeit in beta, so you may not have it yet. You can turn on smile functionality in the app, but you must turn on all notifications.

"Also what does Amazon have to do with SV?"

Amazon is part of metaphorical Silicon Valley. So's Microsoft, for instance. Metaphorical Silicon Valley is too large to fit in literal Silicon Valley.


Is IBM included in metaphorical Silicon Valley? What about Expedia? Or Concur? Seems very arbitrary. Is metaphorical Silicon Valley only applicable to negative actions of tech companies or does it apply to all big tech companies? I searched for “metaphorical Silicon Valley” and didn’t see anything relevant.

Also how did you get into this beta and where is the actual option? Is it under notifications? I’d prefer to use the native app and still use smile.


I didn't do anything in particular to get the beta; the offer got pushed to me.

As for SV, the inability to draw a rigid, precise line around a phenomenon doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Life's fuzzy.


So when you say SV Company you mean high-growth technology leveraging company that puts profit first?

I’m honestly struggling to understand how you apply SV to a company that is not physically from SV, or at least very nearby.


Silicon Valley isn't just a place, it's a mindset and set of values. I deal with "Silicon Valley" businesses in London. It's spreading.

Not sure why you're making such a big deal about this.


Curious how you would define the set of values. Microsoft has dramatically different values from Google, so much so that Google's company values were in many ways explicitly a dig at Microsoft.


How would you distinguish them now?


I’ve honestly never heard the term used that way. It still seems very confusing.


Amazon was founded on Kleiner Perkins money. That's Silicon Valley.


I would define a Silicon Valley company as a venture funded startup that leverages tech and has a set of ideologies that is usually left leaning American, usually values growth over profit, usually is fine with taking the law less serious if it's in the way of growth or profit, usually has elements of hacker culture, ...

... or any company that started out this way, which is why Microsoft can be considered to be a SV company.


Except that Microsoft didn't take venture money until right before IPO, has always valued profits over growth, and has sort of the antithesis of hacker culture. (See eg. Bill Gates' famous "Open letter to hobbyists".)


in this context, "silicon valley" is used to mean the tech industry, and everyone here knows what the comment means.

it's as if you're complaining that somebody referred to "wall street" during the discussion of an investment bank because they're actually located in CT.


Amazon was founded on Kleiner Perkins money. That's Silicon Valley.


IBM is especially confusing because they actually have offices in SV.


As do Amazon and Microsoft. For that matter, "Detroit" (as a metonym for the auto industry) also have offices in Silicon Valley - Ford Greenfield Research is near Stanford, GM Advanced Technology in Sunnyvale, and GM Cruise Automation in SF.

When it comes to multinationals, physical location matters little - Google employs thousands of people in NYC and Boston and has offices all over the world.


They aren't because they don't have the new tech prestige.

I'd say Amazon is on the borderline, IMO.


>Is IBM included in metaphorical Silicon Valley? What about Expedia? Or Concur? Seems very arbitrary. Is metaphorical Silicon Valley only applicable to negative actions of tech companies or does it apply to all big tech companies? I searched for “metaphorical Silicon Valley” and didn’t see anything relevant.

Right, and while we're at it Goldman Sachs shouldn't be considered part of Wall Street. They're headquartered on West St after all!


Goldman Sachs is obviously a “Wall Street” company because they are based in NYC and participate in the financial industry.

Amazon, Microsoft, Concur and Expedia are all headquartered in Washington State which is nowhere near Silicon Valley. Similarly IBM is headquartered in New York.

My question is what makes a company outside SV a “SV Company”. This usage of the term is new to me so I am attempting to get a more complete understanding of the meaning.


just being a tech company.

thats it.

NYC had Silicon Alley. Utah has Silicon Slopes, London, Seattle etc all harbor "SV-style" companies which mostly are internet services with clients.

Its not a confusing or uncommon term especially because theres a lions share of these cheaply made internet services being created left and right in silicon valley and beyond.


Is it too hard to take the charitable view that by "SV Company" they mean "internet company?"


Yes because not all "internet companies" have the same culture as companies from the South Bay area.


Not all South Bay companies have the same culture, either, so maybe the category should to be adjusted, and to me, I think the actual category is internet companies, which I think are more congruent in their goals than they are if evaluated by geography.


That and their notices "hey you look at this" are just a bunch of shit products that I have no interest in.

Amazon's Prime Day and other efforts to sell me low quality garbage products are such a turn off. I don't typically think of Amazon like Wall-Mart but they sure as hell are trending that way.


Amazon is not based in Silicon Valley, do you mean consumer tech as an industry?

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