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Is Google the Big Brother of the 21st Century?


Written by:
2009/12/09 03:49 PM RssIcon

Google Big Brother “Big Brother” a term synonymous with people, government or other organisations watching your every move. Google has become a giant on the internet. With their fingers in so many pies, they naturally have the ability to collect a huge amount of personal data. With new applications coming online this year, their dominance is just increasing, as well as their ability to track more and more of what you do. Is Google the next Big Brother?

What is Big Brother?

Big Brother is a fictional character in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. In the society that Orwell describes, everyone is under complete surveillance by the authorities. The people are constantly reminded of this by the phrase "Big Brother is watching you".

In 1984, the movie version of the book was actually released, correctly entitle 1984. Directed by Michael Radford, starring John Hurt, Richard Burton, Suzanna Hamilton.

Since then the term “Big brother” has become synonymous with any one watching you. Especially applied to governments and large organisations.

Google is tracking you.

I just wrote an article this week about Google's new Tracking method. Now they track everybody who uses their search engine. This has caused a large amount of concern and fired up a nice debate about privacy.

Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, was quoted this week telling people he is not concerned with people's privacy. "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place," says Schmidt. Implying that Google does not care about your privacy, and if you are then don’t use Google.

Google is collecting your data.

Do you really know how much data about you Google really has. They have loads of applications capable of collecting vital information. From private emails, to confidential documents to shopping and browsing habits.

What kind of data of yours does Google actually have. Think about it. A list of Google apps might give you an idea.

  • Gmail – All your Private conversations.
  • Docs – Your documents including letters and financial if you have used them.
  • Groups – Your rants and raves, including your thoughts and persuasions.
  • Google Chrome – Allsorts of data regarding your browsing habits.
  • Wave – Still in beta, but has potential to be a wealth of private information and data
  • DNS – Exactly where you go on the internet. You cannot hide.
  • Chrome OS – Potential to know exactly what’s on your computer.
  • Search – All Google’s search, blog, web, products, etc. Google know exactly what you want and what you’re looking for.
  • Google Maps – Need we say more, exactly where you live and where you travel.
  • GPS and Google Earth – Also live travelling. Think Geolocation.
  • Blogs – The blogs you read and to a degree write and comment on.
  • Chat – Your private conversations with others.
  • Toolbar – Some consider it spyware.
  • Android – Who knows what type of data can be collected from your mobile phone.

Have I missed any? I don’t know. Let me know.

The point is that Google does collect data. For all searches they record the cookie ID, your Internet IP address, the time and date, your search terms, and your browser configuration. Increasingly, Google is customizing results based on your IP number. This is referred to in the industry as "IP delivery based on geolocation."  Google has no data retention policies. They are able to easily access all the user information they collect and save.

Here is a list of things Google knows about you. 25 Surprising Things That Google Knows About You. sponsors the Big Brother Awards. Google was nominated in 2003. Why? Nine reasons:

  1. Google's Immortal Cookie: Google stores a cookie on your computer used to identify you. What if other sites can look at that cookie? Well, browsers won't just hand out cookies to can't sniff out other site's cookies very easily, but Google's cookie never expires. Lots of sites have followed their lead and establish immortal cookies now. Turn off your computer for 10 years? When you fire it up, Google will still remember you.
  2. Google records everything it can. Google Zeitgeist shows you the world's most popular searches. Popular searches are based on saving every single search. It's a big effort, but they have six zillion linux boxes to do it on. Google knows what news you're reading. Lots of background stuff going on.
    They also track searches by geographic region. There's no sense of anonymity anymore; on the Internet, you're always leaving bread crumbs. You can do some erasing of trails, but at a fundamental level you can't remove everything. Even old websites that have been long removed are still archived somewhere. Google owns the universe: you can't control how people find or don't find your site.
  3. Google retains all data indefinitely. They won't say how long. Should you be concerned?
  4. Google won't say why they need this data. But I think they need it to grow their data mine which increases their chances of success. The more data they have, the more stuff they can do with it, the more they can derive from it. They are figuring out relationships between keystrokes and consumer behavior.
  5. Google hires spooks. They hired a cryptologist once...
  6. The Google Toolbar is spyware (like all other toolbars). The toolbar reports your browsing history even if you never visit Google. It even reports automatically refreshing popup ads, showing you visited all of those sites too. This way it can determine what are the most popular pages on the web. It records your address if you map it, and then it knows how far things are from you in your search results. Google knows what browser I'm running, my OS, my IP address (from an IP address you can often know what street someone is on.
  7. Google's cache copy of website material is illegal because it violates copyright law. This is debatable. Defenders say it's important enough to allow searching, so it's ok for Google to store copies of copyrighted material in its database. You can also program your site to tell Google not to archive it. Google tends to favor newer material, but sometimes it finds very old stuff.
  8. Google is not your friend. Google is a company in business to make money. It's not a public utility, and they have no responsibility to the public. They can choose to kick anyone out of their database. This gives them a remarkable amount of power and control. They can make any company 'cease to exist' for any reason, with no recourse, no number to call.
  9. Google is a privacy time bomb due to Gmail. Gmail does things like extracting addresses from emails so it can offer to map it for you. Google knows I'm getting email from services that have that address. Antispam laws require advertisers to supply addresses, so that's mostly what Google is feeding on. What happens when I get email from MSN adCenter, the Google competitor? Google knows I joined up with their competitor.

Should we be concerned?

Well I do not know. That is why I am asking you. But think of this. If the CEO does not think that your privacy matters, then there should be a need for concern. I know that a lot of the apps that we use from Google are public. But we would want to use them with a little guarantee of privacy. I must choose to make my data available to the public, or to whom ever I want. Not Google. Anyway, even if I do make some stuff public, that does not give anyone the right to use it as they want.

Think of a picture posted on the Internet, It has copyright attached. You cannot just lift that picture and use it as you want without the artists consent. Same with any information or data you put up on the net.

Cloud computing is the future. Yes, I know that there is a potential risk when you hand your data over to someone else. But your hope is that they would guard your privacy with everything they have.

Perhaps the former CEO of Sun Microsystems, Scott McNealy, was right: "Privacy is dead, deal with it." Maybe it's just no big deal.

Maybe it is something that we need to accept and live with. Maybe it is the path of the future. Maybe the CEO of Google is correct, if you don’t want to share it, don’t use it. Perhaps if we are so paranoid, we should not be using the internet at all. Maybe lack of privacy is a by product of the internet that we must accept. I don’t know. What do you think?

With the launch of new apps from Google, like Google Wave and Google DNS they certainly have a huge opportunity to collect data without our initial consent. Perhaps using those applications is initial consent. I don’t know. I found this post a very interesting read: Big Brother gets smarter: Google Public DNS launches.

Your Thoughts.

I’d be interested in reading your thoughts on the matter. Are you concerned or are you just not bothered? Have you accepted that the likes of Google is collecting data about you? Do you actually use Google or any of Google’s apps, or any sort of cloud computing?

I don’t know if I am concerned or not. But I am certainly interested in the subject and the debate.

Related Reading:

Introducing Google Chrome Operating System

Google - Antitrust Lawsuit.

Google Wave, collaboration on steroids.

Google’s Real-Time Search

What is Google DNS and How to set it up on Windows.

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