This has probably happened to you: You ‘Googled’ a number of sites to price computer software. Then, you visited a site about something completely different, but the ads were for—surprise!—new computer software. This seems strange, right?
Another scenario you might recognize is that you enter a keyword you’re targeting into a Google search to see how you rank and find that you’re number 1 on the list! But when you check the same keyword later, without logging in to your Google account, you discover that you’re not listed in the results at all.
What exactly is going on?
It may seem like a coincidence, but the truth is that privacy advocates have been after Google for years, claiming that the Internet juggernaut has crossed the line on numerous occasions in the way it obtains and stores information about its users.
Some Cookies are Worse Than Others
How did Google know to put those computer software ads up anyway? Well, it’s because your computer is telling them about your browsing habits. This happens because, when you’re browsing the Internet, “cookies” are installed on your computer. These cookies may sound harmless, but they’re actually storing information about you.
Usually, cookies are safe and can even improve your Internet surfing experience. Websites mainly install cookies on your hard drive to help identify you, so that when you visit a particular site, you get a customized version of that page. Cookies help make the Internet easier to navigate and more interactive with your preferences.
They also make it more convenient to visit the sites you use regularly. Cookies are the reason why don’t have to log into your EBay account, Gmail, or Facebook profile every time.
Cookies are set to remain on your computer for a set amount of time, and then they expire. Some expire as soon as you leave the site, and others stay on your computer until it is shut down. But, some can stay on your computer for years.
Cookies are harmful when they are used for more than just to improved you Internet experience and add convenience. Sometimes, third parties can use tracking cookies to monitor your browsing habits so that they can bombard you with ads for products you’ve searched for…like computer software.
Added to this way for Google to track your habits, it is reported that they recently were able to utilize a know weakness in Apple’s Safari browser. This resulted in the gathering of information from millions of searches. While many users might have thought that their searches were private, in fact they were not.
Who else is Reading Your Email?
You should have an expectation that your email is private and that you’re the only reading it, right? But if you’re using Gmail, you should have privacy concerns. Did you know that Google scans your emails? You might your send an email to your sister about the lawn furniture you were thinking of buying for the summer, and then find advertisements for lawn furniture in the margins the next time you checked your email.
As if scanning the emails you send isn’t bad enough, Google takes it a step further and even scans the messages you receive from your others, and they don’t even have to be subscribed to Google! Google not only scans emails; it also stores the data obtained from these emails. This is astonishing! Here you thought that you were just telling a friend about the arrival of your new granddaughter, and instead you had an automated bot assuming you love children, and then provide you with ads about babies Why do they do this?
Google says it stores emails for up to 60 days and then deletes them. They also claim to only scan emails in order to integrate with product lines and that the cookies installed are not cross-referenced. But, the Electronic Privacy Center (epic.org) says that Google has the ability to keep emails indefinitely and that cookies can be cross-referenced.
Total Integration—Social Networking Invades Gmail
Email scanning isn’t Google’s only privacy violation regarding its Gmail users. Last year, in 2011, Google Plus and Gmail integrated. So now, when you register for a Google Plus account and log in the first time, you might be surprised to find your email contacts already listed!
How is this possible?
Well, your contacts aren’t exactly there yet, but Google is suggesting them to you. It does this by discovering the people you email or chat with the most often. Google is already being criticized for this feature.
Google Plus’s disclosure policy says: ‘We will record information about your activity – such as posts you comment on and the other users with whom you interact – in order to provide you and other users with a better experience on Google services.’
When combined with the knowledge of Google’s email scanning, this claim to record information about users’ activity has should raise questions about how much privacy they really have. How much information about your social networking and email activity does Google record?
Google’s email violation is reminding many of other privacy violations perpetrated by the Google Internet Giant. Google has already had to pull the ‘resharing’ feature from Google+, which allowed users to share something with their circle that was previously shared with them by a friend or family member. This becomes a problem if the original user doesn’t intend the share to go any further. With this feature, a reshare by a friend does not require to approval.
The worst of these incidents was with ‘Google Buzz,’ which Google discontinued at the end of 2011 to focus on Google+. Just a few years ago, Google Buzz started instantly adding your Gmail contacts, making them visible to everyone! Google explained itself by assuring users that they could easily adjust privacy settings with a simple mouse click. But how many knew they could do that before the damage was done? Backlash from users and privacy advocates convinced Google to pull the feature.
This flagrant privacy violation, along with others, shows that Google has little concern for its users’ privacy.
Your Picture Might Be on Google Street View
If the email privacy issues weren’t enough, Google Street View has to be one of the greatest Internet privacy faux pas ever. With this service, unmarked vans drove around and took pictures of people and published them on the Internet. People didn’t get the chance to approve the images or give permission before those images were posted on Google Maps for the world to see.
The result of the scandal was lawsuits and unresolved anger toward Google. It was finally determined that, while taking the pictures wasn’t illegal, it was certainly an invasion of privacy. The incident left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth when it came to Google’s methods and disregard for privacy.
Do you know if you are featured on Google Maps? You could be. Google’s response to this is that if you find anything objectionable, feel free to report it.
Your Profile and Google
As if all of the above was not enough as of March 1st, 2012 Google has announced that it will begin to build a profile of your habits. What does this mean? It appears that Google is just being more transparent about a practice that they started some time ago. Long before Google’s statement regular online users noticed that they were being subjected to advertising targeted to their most recent searches.
They intend to track your online activity across all your internet habits -check your email, check headlines, get directions, check your calendar, upload videos to YouTube and search things you want to learn more about. They state that this is to serve you better and one has to trust their altruistic intentions. Short of signing out of all their services there is not much that can be done to protect your privacy.
Protecting Your Online Identity
With all of this information about tracking cookies, email scanning and Internet photos, how do you protect your privacy online?
Unfortunately, the only perfect way to do this is to stay offline. What you do online will inevitably leave a trail of some kind.
But don’t panic, there are measures you can take to help ensure your privacy when you decide to browse the Internet. If ‘Big Brother Google’ is your main concern, you can avoid subscribing to Gmail, Google Plus and other Google Services.
On the other hand, if your main worry is over those tracking cookies…well, cookies are easy enough to remove. This can help protect your privacy and has the added bonus of freeing up space on your hard drive. You can find them stored in the ‘View Files’ tab listed under ‘Settings.’ Look for, and remove, unfamiliar URLs.
Another option is to adjust your browser’s ‘Privacy Settings’ so that you are notified when a cookie is being installed or modify settings to block cookies instantly.
If you have any other ideas for privacy protection, feel free to leave them in the comments below. I’d love to hear them!
As a senior, Pat Tate started to explore Internet Marketing. She uses her blog Grandma’s Internet Marketing/blog as a journal to keep track of the people that she has met along the way and programs that have helped her. It has been an uphill battle for her grey head to learn all these new fascinating things about Internet Marketing. She is also an avid golfer and invites women to join her to talk golf at Women’s Golf Center. She has always loved toys and as the proud Grandmother of five beautiful Grandchildren she gets to play with new ones. At Grandma’s Toy Review she talks about baby equipment and toys that her family and some of the parents that write for the site have used and loved. Always a very busy person she has been interested in cooking and collecting recipes. In an effort to sort out a mound of favorite recipes and to be able to pass them on to the next generation she started Family, Foods, and Friends. Again she invites people to join her and to share their cooking adventures.