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In Praise of Google

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Anyone walking about on London's underground these past few days or reading a newspaper in the UK cannot have failed to notice the gigantic hoardings and ads bearing the logos of Google and the Citizens' Advice Bureaux (CAB).

For readers of this blog overseas the CAB is about as English as Buckingham Palace and buttered scones for afternoon tea. The CAB came into existence the day after World War II started. To quote from its official history:

From the start, volunteers ran the service working from public buildings and private houses. Advisers dealt with problems relating to the loss of ration books, homelessness and evacuation. They also helped locate missing relatives and prisoners of war. Debt quickly becomes a key issue as household incomes were reduced due to call-ups to the Armed Forces. In 1942 the number of bureaux peaked at 1,074. One even operated out of a converted horse box that parked near bombed areas.

The "converted horse box" is a wonderfully appropriate image of what the CAB was. Almost certainly the horse box belonged to a middle-aged titled lady who brought it up to London from the family's country seat. The CAB was a way for a particular type of person to do something for the war effort. This sense of an upper and middle class mission to help the impoverished or deserving poor who could not afford or did not know about lawyers became a firmly rooted part of the CAB's tradition.

The CAB gets funky

But a long time ago the CAB got funky. It has retained its reputation as being solid, reliable and highly professional but now it is also seen as being very focused on issues which are part and parcel of everyday life in 21st Century Britain. I know all this in part because my wife used to work for them. And by the way we do not now nor have we ever owned a horse box.

In other words the CAB was a perfect, I would say inspired, choice of partner for Google's Good to Know campaign around internet safety that is unfurling over here right now. The marriage of Google and the CAB spells modern and dependable, two words that do not always link together easily in a large number of people's minds, perhaps the very people Google is targetting.

Google and the CAB says Mountain View meets the Home Counties. The CAB's logo broadcasts a message: "Come hither. You know us. If we are talking about this then it's really important, it's not ephemeral."

The safety agenda

There are references in the Good to Know campaign to children and family type stuff but in the main in the campaign they are talking about things like phishing, online shopping identity theft and viruses.

The campaign identifies five key areas: passwords, the importance of updating your operating system, warnings about suspicious web sites and emails, the vital role of anti-virus software and finally there was a plug for their own "two-step" verification system. This allows you to set your Google account in such a way that it recognises what device or browser you normally log in from. If subsequently you log in from a different device or use a different browser a pin number will be sent to your mobile phone. You will have to enter that number into a box on the web page before you can gain access to your account. Neat.

So if a bad guy did manage to get hold of your password and they tried to access your account from high up in Andes using Firefox, whereas you typically hang out in Barnsley using Chrome the bad guy will be thwarted.

Mnemonics

I particularly liked the campaign's advice about strong passwords. They suggest you take a favourite line from a film, a play, a song or a book and convert it into a mnemonic. The example they give is from Shakespeare's Hamlet: "To be or not to be, that is the question". This converts to "2bon2btitq". Again, neat. Why didn't I think of that?

More specifically on the family safety side we are reminded that it is now possible to put a password protected lock on Google search and You Tube search. This will prevent various categories of material being located or displayed. Of course if you have turned it on and you then change your mind it can be turned off, either temporarily or permanently. I found turning on safe search in You Tube very easy to do but to do it for Google search using Chrome I found I had to persevere until I got to the right spot. Once Google safe search was on, however, a brightly coloured icon appears on the top right hand side of the screen so you will instantly know if anyone in the family has, ahem, cracked your password and turned safe search off.

A grown up conversation

With Talk Talk's advertising and promotional work around their Homesafe initiative and now this from Google it's good to see internet safety and security making it on to the High Street. We're getting nearer to the type of public awareness raising activities which, historically, have been associated with things like road safety. Quite right too. The internet is now smack bang in the middle of the consumer and family space. It is a High Street product, not a nerdy one.

Much of the Google and CAB campaign is closley aligned with Google's products and services. No bad thing I suppose given how pervasive those products are. I hope other big brands will step forward and do something similar.

In the old days internet companies did not want to talk about any of these things in public because they were frightened of putting people off the internet altogether. It is good that Google has abandoned such a stance. I'd call that grown up.