Monday, January 30, 2012

BIG BROTHER IS THY NAME GOOGLE?

NOTE: (Feb 23rd) This fast moving topic has had several updates since the writing of this article. Several are posted at the end of it.


Effective March 1st, 2012, Google is changing their privacy settings. This means that anyone who has registered with a Gmail, Calendar, Maps, YouTube, Blogger, Chrome, Picassa, Earth, SketchUp, Reader, Google+, Wallet, and other accounts owned and managed by Google, will be affected by this change.

The following statement comes from Google to their users:
We're getting rid of over 60 different privacy policies across Google and replacing them with one that's a lot shorter and easier to read. Our new policy covers multiple products and features, reflecting our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience for your users across Google products.

“We're excited about the improvements we are making across our products and appreciate your support. You can view the new privacy policy at http://www.google.com/policies.”


Translated into user-friendly language, what this means is that Google is collecting information across all these platforms to stitch together a more complete profile about you and your interests. What this really means is that Google will be able to better target advertising to you.

Google says that it won’t sell this information to advertisers, but if they have a few more quarters of poor earnings performance, I believe that eventually they will sell this valuable information to advertisers, who would be happy to know more about you and will gladly pay for it.

Information in seemingly unrelated accounts that are being held in a silo-type model will get shared in this new, merged approach, so what you watch on YouTube and what you receive in your Gmail in-box will become related. For example, if you watch an NFL clip on-line and you live in San Francisco, they could send you advertisements for 49er tickets to your Gmail account.

AND YOU CAN’T OPT OUT!

“Google’s new privacy announcement is frustrating and a little frightening,” said Common Sense Media chief executive James Steyer in a quote given to the Washington Post. “Even if the company believes that tracking users across all platforms improves their services, consumers should still have the option to opt out — especially the kids and teens who are avid users of YouTube, Gmail and Google Search.”
HOW ELSE IS YOUR ACTIVITY BEING TRACKED?
Additionally, Google can collect information about users when they activate an Android mobile phone, sign into their accounts online or enter search terms. It also stores cookies on people’s computers so they know which Web sites are being visited, or use its popular maps program to estimate the location where the user is.
Google’s position as presented by Alma Whitten, Google’s director of privacy for product and engineering, as stated to the Washington Post is, “If you’re signed in, we may combine information you’ve provided from one service with information from other services. In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.”
HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF?
If Google is already deeply embedded in your life, there’s not much you can do to un-embed them at this junction short of discontinuing your use of the services they provide. But this isn’t necessarily a practical solution since what they provide is beneficial, which is why you signed up for it in the first place.
Having said all of the above, users who have not registered on Google or any of its other sites, such as YouTube, Chrome, etc., are not affected by the new policy.
But that’s probably not you since they provide valuable tools that you like.
GOOGLE’S SEARCH ENGINE
The first and easiest line of defense is to stop using Google as your search engine when you’re logged in. You can change the preference of the web browser on your computer(s) and smartphone so that they will default to Bing or Yahoo instead of Google. This way Google won’t see what you’re looking for and won’t have your search history on file (yes, they do keep it forever). Or, you can simply log out of Google and use the Google search engine anonymously. Your choice.
GMAIL
If you’re using Gmail, your next line of defense is to change your email provider. This is definitely more challenging since you’ll have to notify all your friends, clients, vendors, family, etc., of your new email address. But it’s do-able if you find yourself barraged by unwanted marketing materials in the future.
OTHER GOOGLE PRODUCTS

Personally, I’ve opted not to give them my calendar and address book in the first place. I had a very “Big Brother” feeling about them way back then, and now I’m being proved right (big whoop). Sorry.
As with the Google search engine, you can browse and watch videos on YouTube without being logged in. You just won’t be able to save or share them until you are.
Moving forward, I won’t be using Google Wallet any time soon since I don’t want my buying habits tracked by anyone other than the credit card companies that I’ve authorized. And I’m certainly not interested in advertisers of competing brands than what I purchased bombarding me with promotional material.
If you don’t know about ALL the products that Google offers, here’s a link to a handy list. You might find something new and useful here because they do, in fact, provide excellent products. Click HERE to see the complete list with links.
WHAT DO THE FEDS SAY ABOUT THIS?
Hopefully, as this rolls out and the public gets wind of how their information is being shared, the cry will be loud and it will be “Give us an opt out capability!” 
But right now, the FTC, the regulators of this type of stuff, is looking at whether Google is running afoul of antitrust rules because of the way they’re using their dominance in the on-line search world to favor its own business lines.
So far, the FTC has declined to comment to the press about any interaction between Google and regulators on this new privacy change.
Time will tell, and we shall see. Stay tuned…


UPDATE: Google has agreed to a Do Not Track function. To read more, click HERE.
UPDATE:
Tips for keeping your browsing private 
If you’re truly paranoid about your Internet search and browsing history (and I won’t ask why), this video will show you ways to avoid having your activity tracked once and for all. To view it, please click HERE.


UPDATE:
Use Google's own tools to opt out of ad networks
In Google’s privacy policy are links to services that let you view and manage the information you share with Google. Some of the  personal information you volunteered, while some of it is collected by Google as you search, browse, and use other services.

To view almost everything Google knows about you, open the Google Dashboard. You can access all the services associated with your various Google services: Gmail, Google Docs, YouTube, Picasa, Blogger, AdSense, and every other Google property. This dashboard also lets you manage your contacts, calendar, Google Groups, Web history, Google Voice account, and other services. 

                       
UPDATE: If you’re a Social Media, mobile or digital junkie, and/or you want to know more about how to maximize Google’s useful products and tools, then this article is a must read for you. It contains links to 15 Google related blogs from “The Ultimate Guide to Google’s Hidden Tools.” Click HERE.

Information contained herein is for guideline purposes only, is not intended as an endorsement of any product, and is no guarantee of the results.

Images courtesy of Google.

Copyright © The B. Hammil Company 2012

3 comments:

  1. Startpage is another anonymous browser but I find you can't always get into all sites for some reason.

    And, you know what I find frightening? The other day when Google et al went dark to protest SOPA/web censorship. That shocked me.

    With our mail service and landlines disappearing, just imagine if these decide to go "dark" on us for any reason, we'll be at their mercy.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you, Beryn. You always provide excellent information & tips. I don't understand this tip. How is this done. - "Or, you can simply log out of Google and use the Google search engine anonymously. Your choice."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's really quite simple, Laurel. If you're using Google as your search engine, look at the top right side of the page. If you see your name there, you're logged in and Google can track and store your searches.

      To log out, click on your name and a pull down menu appears. Click on "sign out" and you're logged off. You can still use their search engine, but because your account isn't open, they won't track your activities.

      Delete

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