Recently Google announced that it will be consolidating the privacy policies for all of its services.
These include about 60 different services, such as the popular Google search engine, the Google-owned YouTube video website, Gmail and the Android operating software for mobile phones.
Because of the scope and popularity of these services, this announcement got the attention of everyone from state and federal representatives to advocacy and security groups. But more than anything else, it left consumers with a throbbing headache as they pondered how this would affect them and if they should be concerned enough to stop using Google services.
Data-protection agencies in Europe and others have asked Google to delay implementation of the new policies to provide adequate time for reviewing the new procedures, but at the time I write this, Google has not complied.
For instance, if you search for gardening information with the Google search engine, play videos of how to plant seeds on YouTube, and get brochures of the latest horticultural offerings in Gmail, Burpee and other seed and plant companies may be willing to pay Google more to blanket you with their ads.
If you are interested in gardening, you might actually be happy to see ads for gardening tools and seeds, but this is not really the point. The point is that we are putting private information about ourselves in the hands of others. The problem lies in two areas.
First are the unintentional consequences. As we recently saw in the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation, even acts made with the best intention can backfire, creating more harm than good. When you add that to the fact that technology is moving at the speed of light, we are becoming more and more data-dependent and new ways to manipulate data are being invented every day, it gets a little scary.
Second, possibly even more disturbing, is that power and money can corrupt even the most honorable people and companies. History tells this story over and over again.
Google’s informal corporate motto is “Don’t Be Evil.” Yet it was recently found that Google was circumventing the users’ privacy settings in the Safari Web browser. Even though the Safari browser was set to refuse tracking cookies, Google was adding hidden codes that allowed it to implement browser cookies from third-party ad sites that Google operates.
When this was made public, Google stopped the practice. But other devious practices could be revealed or be implemented in the future. Believe me, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Although Google’s current proposed aggregation of data may be somewhat benign, what it will empower them to do in the future is problematic. With the use of data from mobile devices, Google will be able to track our physical locations and actions. With data from our consolidated online profile, it may be able to foresee our every move.
If you want a prediction of what this type of unseen tracking can do, check out the movie called “Antitrust.” It was produced in 2000, when Microsoft was the big, bad corporate entity. It shows what can happen when a company gets too much power, too much technology and too much money.
When you watch the movie, remember to add 10 years of technology to the mix. In 2000, they didn’t have the mobile technologies and data-tracking capabilities that we have now. If you watch this movie and really ponder how large and powerful Google has become, the throbbing in your head may become a much larger headache.
Contact Sandy Berger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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