Do No Evil!

When Google started off, one of their core mottos was: “Do no evil!”. Of course back then, in the year 1998, their main concern of evil doing was Microsoft and proprietary software. Google has been known to support and promote various open source project, over the course of time, but the “Do no evil!” methodology had mostly stuck to most of the things Google is doing. 

It is my belief that while Google, and its likes, are surely practicing its “Do no evil!” motto, I’m not entirely sure about its users and customers. We are all aware of various SEO schemes, capable of bypassing the various mechanisms Google had put in place, fooling the Page Rank mechanism to do something else. What I’m worried about is Google’s latest news about “Context Based Video Search”. 

While the evolution of “Context Based Video Search” is still brewing slowly, its immediate outcomes can easily be exploited for doing wrong, sometimes, the results may be down right criminal (if not even capable of inducing terror). 

In order to explain, I will introduce a doom’s day scenario, one that is so out there, one that you would end up reading saying: “Impossible!”, but yet, somewhere in the back of your mind – you would know – someone will do eventually. 

Our scenario starts with the US Presidential elections of 2008, Barack Obama is leading in the polls, while John McCane is slowly lingering back. People from all over the US are tuned in to the race, TV, papers, online – the information is all around us, just waiting to be read, watched, listened – you name it, it’s there. A short visit to http://video.google.com/ will yield multiple results when seeking video footage of your favorite candidate. 

Let us imagine that “Context Based Video Search”, for now “CBVS”, is capable of searching a video and “knowing” that Barack Obama or another Democratic figure appears in the video, and would immediately associate that video with the search for the term “Barack Obama” or the term “Democratic Presidential Rally” – or any other combination related to the elections. John McCane’s advisors team are willing to do almost anything to get him elected, but of course, they will not resort to unlawful acts. However, John McCanes supporters and voters are totally a different story.

Let us imagine that now a supporter/voter would upload a video to the Google videos website, in which there is a video promoting Barack Obama. However, while the foreground video shows images of Barack Obama, an underlined subliminal context exists in the video, quietly promoting John McCane. While the actual success ratio of planting subliminal messages in such a video are questionable, this type of subliminal message may actually be targeting the “floating votes”, slowly bringing them to the Republican party, while at the same process, basically disrupting the democratic process. 

In the above scenario, the video was induced by a follower or a non-profit oriented individual – which means that the above scenario is highly un-likely. However, as we all know that Coca-Cola and other companies had planted subliminal messages in movie theaters during the 50’s, imagine what would happen if a company producing Web Videos would start selling: “Subliminal Video Ad Space” – the sheer magnitude of the Internet and the viral expansion of such services are surely to affect us on a global scale. Imagine getting that funny video in the email, watching it and then running to the nearest Fry’s to purchase a new iPod and you have no idea why you did that… – Time will tell, who will win? the quest for the quick buck, or the desire to “Do No Evil!”.

Is the below truly a glitch, or are we back in the 50’s?

Or how about the following example, which I just found on YouTube:

The following website videos a panel of 5 different approaches to Context Based Video Search. While each company went a different way, it is clear that they are all trying to reach a similar goal – understand what people are looking to look at and provide it to them. Each one of these mechanisms is most probably prune to the same logic attacks as the one I’ve described above and are sure candidates for exploitation by the companies that are closed to evil than others.