What Google knows about you

If you use Google, which most of us do, you should have noticed a small banner appearing at the top of the page “We’re changing our privacy policy and terms.” You can either “Learn More” or, the most popular “Dismiss.”

Who wants to read about what Google plans to do with all that information it has about us?

When Google announced its new policy, described as “our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google,” the European authorities immediately told them to delay the  1st March start date until they had a chance to examine Google’s new found desire for beauty and simplicity.

If anyone decided to check out Google’s new policy, you would discover something so troubling and frightening that it would override any tendency to leave companies alone to make money how they see fit. Don’t forget places like Facebook which know more about us than even our closest friends.

Here’s what Google knows about you, what it stores on its servers just waiting for a hacker or a government request:

  • Every e-mail you ever sent or received on Gmail.
  • Every search you ever made
  • The contents of every chat on Google Talk.
  • Every telephone conversation you had using Google Voice,
  • Every Google Alert you’ve set up.
  • It has your Google Calendar with all content going back as far as you’ve used it,
  • It knows your contact list with all the information you may have included about yourself and the people you know.
  • It has your Picasa pictures, your news page configuration, indicating what topics you’re most interested in. And so on.

If you ever used Google while logged in to your account to search for a person, a symptom, a medical side effect, a political idea; if you ever gossiped using one of Google’s services, all of this is on Google’s servers. And thanks to the magic of Google’s algorithms, it is easy to sift through the information because Google search works like a charm. Google can even track searches on your computer when you’re not logged in for up to six months.
Facebook has even more interesting stuff: your pictures, your comments, your likes, your friends, your un-friends.

You’ve done it, said it, clicked it, searched it, Googled it. You can never undo it or unclick it. It stays there forever.

The European Commission has a new privacy proposal known as the “Right to be forgotten.” It would allow Internet users in 27 countries of the European Union to demand Internet companies delete their personal data.

Google’s has a famous motto of “do no evil.”  Google isn’t deliberately doing evil, quite the opposite, it has revolutionised how we find information but it makes no secret of the fact that it seeks to make profits which it deserves. Its a little disingenuous, however, when it claims the new privacy policy seeks “to provide you with as much transparency and choice as possible.”

If you follow the instructions, with some difficulty, you will eventually downloaded pages and pages of personal material about yourself from Google. If you look for a simple button telling Google not to save anything I don’t to save, you won’t find one.

Google, like Facebook, owns untold masses of information. They search for it, they virtually mine it, use it to sell ads. But Google is not the real threat. The real fear is that computer technology has turned into an arms race between good and bad guys. Google may see itself as the good guy with the white hat, bravely protecting our information, and it’s doing this as best it can. However hackers are hard at work all the time.

Google and Facebook are profiting from our private information in ways that is difficult to understand or would approve of. Hackers can do even worse, as we have already seen in many cases around the world. Hackers have already unlocked and put on the Web reams of credit card information, private documents and all sorts of personal e-mail’s. Imagine your e-mail’s and chats on the Web for anyone to read, they may not be earth shattering but someone will be interested..

Online hoarding of our private information is not something we can afford to “dismiss.” The obvious, ethical, default setting should affirm that our private information belongs to us and nobody else — not to Google, not to Facebook.
Until things change I am reminded of an old adage from the Military, “Don’t put in writing anything you aren’t prepared to be hung for, or in speech, searches, diary etc. etc.

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