Sunday, February 12, 2006

Privacy: Going Once, Going Twice, Gone

Did you know your privacy is up for sale? And the seller is no one else but the owner, you?

What's the cost of your privacy? You may think that it's priceless but is it really?

What if I said that the cost of your privacy is a few features? No way, you may reply, but isn't that the truth, especially if you are a passionate Google user like millions of other users? Feeding the company at the expense of your privacy? Helping it make billions as it bends down to communist governments while refusing to fullfil US government's legitimate requests?

Not only your privacy is for sale but also that of your business and your web site, and your friends, and your family.

In an earlier post I pointed out some of the tools Google uses to collect your personal data

1. Google Analytics: so we can spy on your traffic, referrals, surfing habits and eventually take over your market.
2. Google Mail: so we can know everything there is to know about your email usage patterns, including the conversation and chat history.
3. Google Mail for business: so we can get to know all your business secrets and eventually drive you off your own business.
4. Google Adsense: so we can give you a bait and then make your web site vanish from the SERPs.
5. Google Toolbar: so we can spy on you from the moment you open your web browser.
6. Google Pack: Some people are getting really knowledgeable about how we keep data about them and never delete that data. This really hurts our software installation on their computers. So to overcome that, we have partnered with Dell (and paid them $1bn) to have all our software pre-installed. This way people will just have our software installed and won't have to care about the term we like to refer at Googleplex as privacy. Our payment of $1bn to Dell should show our users how much we care about having our software installed on their computers.
7. Google Desktop Search: so we can just have your hard drive. It’s too painful to know about you in pieces, why don’t you just hand us over the hard drive.
8. Google Word Processor (Upcoming): You know all this knowledge we collect about you (and never delete) is really good but imagine how wonderful it will be if we could just know what you are thinking right when you are thinking about it. That's why with the release of our word processor, we will send all your typed documents to our servers as you type them so we can show you related ads (and so you can click on them like a good Net citizen). That way you won't even have to open the browser. Imagine, you start typing about "sex" or how your last night went, and we will start showing you related ads.

Some people are just damn smart. No matter what we do, they won't install our software.

Don't worry, Google protects your privacy very much and for that reason we will delete your information right when you delete it.

Oops, scratch the last point and please read it as follows:

1. "If you cancel your Google Account or uninstall Google Desktop, the files indexed in the Search Across Computers feature will no longer be accessible through Google Desktop and may remain on our servers for up to 60 days before being deleted".

We hope you agree that we should be allowed to keep your hard drive information for 60 more days. Remember we gave you the features to search your computer from multiple locations, and after all there is a cost for that.

And finally, we figured it would be really cool to know how and when you are visiting web sites even when you are just using our Desktop search. So for that reason, we put the following line in our privacy policy:

"... Google Desktop may send information about the websites that you visit ... ... collect a limited amount of non-personal information from your computer and send it to Google.

... This includes summary information, such as the number of searches you do"

Did you notice how cleverly we have put "non-personal information" in our privacy policy? All we hope is that you don't pay attention to the following lines in our privacy policy:

"Your copy of Google Desktop includes a unique application number. The unique application number is required for Google Desktop to work and cannot be disabled."

And we also hope you don't have the brain to put 2 and 2 together and realize that using the above mentioned application number with the various cookies we store on your computer + your Social Security Number that you gave us for AdSense + your Google Analytics account + your IP address + your Gmail account will eventually let us know a little bit more details about you than we mentioned. But that shouldn't surprise you as we are giving you free features and organizing the world's information for you.


[The above is a work in progress]
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At 4:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing up this information. People need to know what Google and company are up to and how they treat information on their users as a commodity, and I appreciate your style and approach. "Frankly Speaking" indeed!

I also like the title. I've linked to this post from my own journal.

I wonder, however, why you use Blogger as your weblogging software and have everything hosted on Google's servers. Surely you know that by using Blogger, all of your visitors will be logged (and may be issued cookies) and will therefore be tracked by Google across multiple weblogs. To be completely honest, I'm uncomfortably in a similar position as I'm in the middle of migrating my website to a different system and my online journal is currently "powered by Blogger."

(I used to think that using Blogger was justified as I was using their bullhorn, as it were, to talk about their unethical behavior. I also figured that my website would likely receive preferential treatment when being indexed. On the first point, I no longer believe that using any of Google's services for anything other than research is smart or appropriate; and on the second point, I learned when Google's BlogSearch was unveiled that they pretty much treat all weblogs equally.)

Would you write more about Gmail in future posts?

At 2:10 PM, Blogger Frank said...

Thank you christefano, for commenting.

I have nothing personally against Google. I think it started out as a good company that has "fermented" over the years to the point that it grosses me out.

I have been asked this question so many times about why I use blogger.

I like to have access to my templates and so froth.

Also what I seek is for Google to ease it's privacy tracking and there is no better way to get their attention than to use blogger.

I do hope people clear their cookies after visiting this site using CrapCleaner or something similar.

Nonetheless, at some point, I will migrate to another blogging provider.

Thank you once again for your comment.


At 2:33 PM, Blogger Frank said...

More about Gmail to come very soon.


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