The Google Trilogy, Part 2 : Privacy

In part two of a three part series on Google and the issues which surround its domination of the tech space, HumanIPO looks at the privacy issues that have dogged the tech giant and asks whether a business or individual’s data is really safe with the company.

In 2009, radio journalist Brian Lehrer asked Eric Schmidt, then Google’s CEO, about his view on the company’s growing domination of the cyberspace and the potential for regulation, to which Schmidt responded that it was unnecessary as Google had been and always would be “based on a set of values and principles”.

The changes to Google’s privacy policy has come under attack in the past, forcing the company to adjust. In its Privacy Policy, Google claims that one’s search records are only kept for 18 months and remain anonymous. In a blog post entitled “Another step to protect user privacy”, the company said: “Although [anonymising search server logs] was good for privacy, it was a difficult decision because the routine server log data we collect has always been a critical ingredient of innovation.”

Yet the firm has been regularly accused on antitrust and privacy violations, and concerns have arisen due to the sheer amount of information Google has about its users. This includes details of personal appointments on Google Calendar, private correspondence on Gmail, official and personal documents on Google Docs, online reading habits on Google Reader and physical location on Google Maps.

Google may even have your voice recorded. According to its privacy page on Google’s Mobile Privacy page, the company says: “for products and services with voice recognition capabilities, we collect and store a copy of the voice commands you make to the product or service.”

This amount of data held by Google made PC World share its concern that it was wrong for one firm to have major details on a person on their servers unencrypted, with the risk of data loss, theft, or unauthorised access.

Through adwords and adsense, Google has been accused of tracking online consumer behaviour to customise advertising to its users. Google Chrome has been criticised for recording searcher’s keystrokes in Chrome’s search’s Omnibox address bar before one logs in, with some alleging that this allows Google to track what is stored offline. Google Shopping has also received criticism.

Google’s toolbar is spyware and updates to new versions quietly unlike Microsoft, and without asking. This means that if a user has the toolbar installed, Google essentially has complete access to your hard disk every time you connect to Google. Many webmasters have deleted questionable material from their sites, only to discover later that the problem pages live merrily on in Google’s cache. This cache copy is illegal, according to the Judging from Ninth Circuit precedent on the application of the United States copyright laws to the Internet.

With more than 75 percent monopoly for all external referrals to most websites, no one can avoid Google, yet it is completely unaccountable as, according to reports, mails from webmasters go unanswered. With 200 million searches per day and access to an unprecedented amount of data, does Google amount to a privacy disaster waiting to happen?

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