Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Google and Your Life

Since Google provides the master software for this blog, I may regret writing this article, but recent events have convinced me that Google needs to be reined in.

I have always greatly admired the technical proficiency represented by Google, since, in the days before there was a Google or a Yahoo, I studied and later taught the techniques and limitations of database management. What Google can do today in response to a search request seems almost like magic to me. The problem is: this gives Google unprecedented control over our lives.

Recently I came across an article, excerpted below, that goes into considerable detail about Google’s activities and their threat to us. The article is quite long, 18 pages, but well worth reading in its entirety. Look at the excerpts to get an idea of what I mean.

The first thing you have to realize about Google is that it operates an incredibly sophisticated program and algorithms that place paid advertising messages in close proximity to your product-search results – and also arrange the order of responses in direct proportion to payments made to Google by business advertisers. There is really nothing wrong with this, but you have to participate in this program as an advertiser to realize its sophistication and complexity – both to get searchers to buy from favored vendors and also to get those vendors to increase their spending on the Google marketing program.

The second thing to realize is that Google is making a record of every search you have ever made, and can analyze that data to form an accurate picture of every aspect of your life – your interests, your spending patterns, your income level, your political leanings and your secrets.

One obvious result of this I have recently noticed is that when I search for a product and then go to a particular business site, like Amazon, to check out the product, ads for that specific product start to show up on all kinds of other websites that I subsequently visit. This is happening even though I have turned on “InPrivate Filtering”, which is supposed to prevent this from happening.

Again, there is nothing particularly wrong with collecting marketing data in order to focus your product promotions to likely purchasers, but when you combine Google’s reach and prowess at this with other things they are doing, you realize that we have a serious problem here. Read on:

Google; the case for hawkish regulation

Robert Epstein Sept. 5, 2012 The Kernel

“In 2010, Google’s Street View teams – the mobile crews that are systematically filming every street and building in the world, including your home – were accused of deliberately capturing people’s names, telephone numbers, emails, text messages, passwords, search histories, and even online dating information as they drove from neighbourhood to neighbourhood in the US and more than 30 other countries between 2006 and 2010. Google snatched the data from Wi-Fi networks. This is akin to what those nasty adults in the white van were doing when they drove around the neighborhood trying to find ET, but on a spectacular scale.

At first Google claimed, absurdly, that only one lone engineer at the company was aware of this activity, but a 2012 Federal Communications Commission investigation concluded that the knowledge was widespread. The FCC fined Google $25,000 for obstructing its probe, but that was it. Extracting data from personal, unencrypted Wi-Fi networks does not violate current federal wiretapping laws. In 2011, the French government fined Google 100,000 euros for its Street View caper, and in the UK the investigation is ongoing. But that was it….”

“In 2011, Google reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission regarding revelations about how it handled user search information. Google tracks everything you search for, you see, as well as every website you visit, including those porn sites your friend visited when he borrowed your laptop. The company denied it was using this information improperly, but FTC officials were not persuaded. As a result, the company reluctantly agreed to undergo regular privacy audits for the next 20 years. As you may have noticed, however, those highly targeted ads Google sends you based on your email content and internet activities seem to be coming faster than ever.

In March 2012, in possible violation of the terms of its FTC settlement, Google announced a dramatic change in its privacy policy. Specifically, it began aggregating data obtained from more than 60 different Google products and services, including its Chrome browser and Android operating system. The manoeuvre allowed the company to create comprehensive profiles of the likes, dislikes, tastes, preferences, and activities of hundreds of millions of individuals worldwide, collecting, according to, “sensitive information including … sexual orientation, sexual habits, relationship status, religion, political views, health concerns, employment status, and more.”

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has protested, as have at least eight US Congressmen and several foreign governments, but to no avail. Google defends itself by saying that it’s not breaking any laws, just managing data in a way that allows it to better serve customer needs….”

“And now, increasingly, it’s personal. Google isn’t just collecting information in the abstract, as advertisers have always done; it’s collecting information about you, exactly as if it were listening in to all of your phone calls, peering though your windows to see which books and articles you read, watching you through hidden cameras to see which television shows you watch, following you from shop to shop to track your purchases, and then transcribing all of this information and indexing it for later use and resale.

That’s what Google is doing to you in the digital world you inhabit for so much of the day, and if a bot or a person at Google thinks that what you are doing in that world is unacceptable, they can make your digital self disappear.

Would we, as a society, tolerate a private company that routinely monitored our behavior throughout our waking hours, collecting and cataloging information that it later used to influence our spending and that could, in principle, be used for even more nefarious purposes? No. But that’s exactly what we’re allowing Google to do. If you’re not afraid, you probably should be.” The Kernel

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


At 9:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They were in the news yesterday regarding the filled in suggestions to your search. In the past, courts ruled this was ok because it uses an algorithm based on volume of prior searches. What was different in this case was that the result was a) false rumor and B) returned the search results on a woman overseas (as a prostitute) when you entered only the letter b....that is some STRONG reading ahead of your expected search....


At 3:34 PM, Anonymous Joe said...

I tried getting away from using Google until they took over Youtube which I can't give up.


Post a Comment

<< Home