What started in 1997 as a research project and a mission as the way to organize the world’s information has turned into the world’s largest search engine. Google has given anyone with an Internet connection access to more information than they realize. With such quick access to information, you need to be careful what you put on the World Wide Web and realize what is contained in your Google History. Remember, posts—and searches—are permanent. Here are a few privacy issues when it comes to Google:
1. Google’s Cookie and Toolbar. When you use their search engine, Google places a self-renewing cookie with a unique ID number on your hard disk. As you search Web sites, Google records your surfing activity and saves your searches. There are ways to change your Internet options to stop the cookie tracking and you can learn more by visiting www.google.com/support/accounts/.Remember, nothing you do on the Internet is private; it is all tracked, aggregated, analyzed, sold and used for a variety of purposes (many of them good). The advanced features of Google’s new toolbar for Internet Explorer not only updates automatically, but it also tracks which websites you visit.
2. Google Mail. Google’s mail service, or Gmail offers users free webmail. What most users will notice are the targeted ads that appear on the right side and above your email. According to Google’s privacy page they state “Google believes that showing relevant advertising offers more value to users than displaying random pop-ups or untargeted banner ads. In Gmail, users will see text ads and links to related pages that are relevant to the content of their messages … No email content or other personally identifiable information is ever shared with advertisers.” Although they may not directly be sharing the content of your email messages with advertisers, they are being scanned for content and populated with relevant advertising. Most people and businesses probably don’t consider an email that has been scanned by others to be truly private.
3. Google Docs. Google Docs is an amazingly powerful platform that essentially replaces Microsoft’s Office on your computer. This has many advantages. It is considerably less expensive, always up to date and available from any computer connected to the Internet. It gives you freedom of computing, sharing and collaboration not available when your documents are available only on a physical hard disk. It is rapidly being adopted as the office suite of choice by governments, education systems, and businesses. But as with any web-based application, there are privacy concerns.
Google’s profit model is based on collecting, indexing, and sharing as much information as possible about everyone who uses its suite of tools. Because Google dominates the search engine market, Web sites, businesses and individuals are highly dependent on them. This dependency gives us a good excuse to overlook privacy issues with the company (Gmail is so useful, I couldn’t live without it, even if I’m losing some of my privacy). The solution is not to stop using Google, the Internet or web-based tools. It is to be conscious and discriminating of how you use the tools.