Big Brother Google just got bigger
By End the Lie
This change allows them to store and link data across their many web services in order to create a complete picture of what you’re doing online.
If you’re using an Android phone, this is going to be even worse for you, although it is unclear if users of other smartphones are protected from the extensive data collection when using Google applications and services.
However, it is arguable that this is indeed nothing new and instead of being some kind of drastic new step forward for Google is instead just them admitting what they have long been doing.
Peter Eckersley, the Technology Projects Director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), pointed this out to USA Today in saying, “It has always been the case that Google kept effectively linkable records of our uses of Gmail, Search, Maps and Market for Android, and other services.”
“Only very sophisticated users have ever been able to remove any of that linkability and that remains the case today,” Eckersley said.
“In a couple of cases, Google had some internal practices of not linking your browsing history, and YouTube history, to other data — and those internal walls at the company are now gone,” he added.
The most worrisome aspect of this is that you cannot opt-out of this new data collection and collation system.
You are forced to either accept it and allow them to do it or you close your accounts, there is no other choice.
Of course, as I have previously outlined, there are some ways to help block Google’s tracking methods, but this is near impossible when signed in and the sheer expansiveness of their products makes this much more difficult now.
This is because any site that uses any of these Google products hands over all of your data to Google the second they connect to your website.
Unless you block the calls to Google’s scripts entirely (which I detailed in a guide I wrote some time ago) you are tracked and traced across any site that employs any of these many products.
The problem of course is that Google has become ubiquitous and nearly impossible to escape.
Aside from the fact that most websites use at least one of their products, the power of their search engine and other services is quite hard to beat indeed.
The expansiveness of Google’s reach on the web was highlighted by Eckersley in giving an example of a friend who thought Google wouldn’t have access to his e-mail communications because he did not use Google’s Gmail e-mail service.
However, since so many other people use Gmail (unfortunately I have to include myself in that statement), he realized that any communications with those who used Gmail were indeed being stored by Google.
It is becoming nearly impossible to escape Google nowadays and it is quite unfortunate to note that I have yet to find a free email service that compares to Gmail and since I have had my account since Gmail was first opened, it is my email linked to most of my accounts across the web.
This brings up a large dilemma for me which I am sure many others are experiencing.
Do we close our accounts, lose contact with thousands of people and accounts?
Or do we allow our data to be harvested and stored by Google for whatever purposes they please?
In my case, it would be practically impossible for me to close my Gmail account at this stage. I have used it to store so much critical information and so many contacts that it would be a nightmare if I lost it all.
If Google makes it easy to export all of this data in some way, a process they call “data liberation” (interesting choice of words, I think), then I would definitely make the effort to make the move.
However, this is totally up to them. They could make it impossible to retrieve your data, only allow you remove bits and pieces or make it ludicrously difficult.
Since you can’t opt-out and no one is forcing you to use their products, they could just say, “Tough luck. Close your account and use something else.”
“What these unilateral decisions by Google and Facebook [referring to the forced usage of the timeline feature] demonstrate is a complete disregard for their users’ interests and concerns,” John Simpson, the spokesman for Consumer Watchdog rightly said.
“It’s an uncommonly arrogant approach not usually seen in business, where these companies believe they can do whatever they want with our data, whenever and however they want to do it,” he said.
Indeed this is exactly what is going on and because Google has an effective monopoly on search, e-mail, maps and so many other services and Facebook commands an effective monopoly on social networking, they can essentially do whatever they want.
There is very little in the traditional business world which is comparable to the complete dominance these two companies have on the internet.
One must wonder why this came about and why government regulators are hesitant to go after either of these companies.
When they do, as the FCC did, it just ends in a settlement with no real changes.
One must consider the strong ties that Facebook and Google both have to American intelligence agencies which have always sought to collect data just like Facebook and Google are doing now.
One must also consider Google’s significant lobbying clout, something which consumers cannot wield in Washington as we do not have several million to spend in the process.
In fact, the Hill reported that Google spent a staggering $9.7 million in their lobbying efforts in 2011.
This is a massive 88% rise of their 2010 lobbying spending and in conjunction with their collection of some seven million signatures in one day shows that Google holds a great deal of influence.
According to the Hill, Google has also disclosed that the company has lobbied Congress and the White House over antitrust issues, meaning that they have essentially been bribing legislators to stop any meaningful antitrust investigations.
Facebook has also been lobbying more in Washington with a 284% increase since 2010 with $1.4 million spent in 2011.
Obviously Google’s spending dwarfs this, likely because Google has been getting more attention for their activities which very well could be violations of antitrust law.
This might also be due to the sheer amount of data Google collects on their users, which was greatly expanded under the new no opt-out policy.
Some of the ways they will use this information, according to Google, is to “provide reminders that you’re going to be late for a meeting based on your location, your calendar and an understanding of what traffic is like that day” or to “ensure that our spelling suggestions, even for your friends’ names, are accurate because you’ve typed them before.”
Yep, you read that right, they hinted that they will be (or are already) recording every single thing you type on any of their services.
While it is unclear what exactly Google will collect when it comes to smartphones not running the Android operating system, Google has said that they will be able to collect information about your device and usage.
According to the Washington Post, this includes, “Your device hardware model, operating system version, unique device identifiers and mobile network information. Google says it may associate your device identifiers or phone number with your Google Account.”
Other information they may collect includes, “Details of how you use the service, such as search queries. Telephony log information like time and date of calls, duration of calls. IP addresses. Cookies that may ‘uniquely identify your browser or your Google Account.'”
I think it is important to go back to Eckersley’s point here and note that much of this information was collected by Google for years.
The only difference is that now they will be able to openly store all of this information and link it between their many services.
In connection with the Carrier IQ software loaded on to most smartphones, there is little (if anything) that is not stored and recorded for later recall by the government or anyone else who might be able to access it.
We are truly entering the age of Big Brother and it is most disturbing because it is being done openly.
The fact that they’re doing it in the open, just as they have done with the NDAA and attempted to do with SOPA/PIPA, is a dire sign that they are no longer concerned that the American people will stand up for their rights.
With a subservient, accepting public, there is no need for a tyrannical government to mask its tyranny any longer.
I believe that this is quite dangerous and if our legislators actually represented us, they would be fighting back against practices like these and instead be advocating a real free market on the internet.
Instead, they are turning the internet into a method of tracking, control and manipulation.
I would love to see a company that could compete with Google’s services but did not have the lock-step relationship with Washington and the penchant for tracking every single thing you do across most of the web.
If anyone knows of such a company please email me at [email protected] as I’d love to switch myself and help promote such an alternative.
If such a company does not exist, I hope someone out there has the drive and passion to make such a project a reality as otherwise Google will just continue to expand their control and monitoring power across the rest of the internet and make it essentially impossible to escape.