Google Privacy

The New Colossus: Google

Google began in 1998 as a search engine, a tool for looking for information on the internet. As with many other computer based companies, Google started when two young geeks met, and instead of properly occupying their time with girls and drugs, were consumed with jigging computer code.

Search engines are programs, guided by algorithms, that crawl across the internet looking for a "boolean search term". This is essentially an equation contained by operators like "AND, OR, or NOT". This idea was created in the 19th century by the mathematician George Boole and it was expanded on in the late 1960s by Gerard Salton. SMART, or Salton’s Magic Automatic Retriever of Text was probably the first effective "index program" which functioned on a small database the way spiders and bots now function on the world wide web.

There were other search engines available in 1998, notably Yahoo!, which was founded in 1995, and for several years was the primary search engine of the internet (Yahoo! still claims the largest world wide web use, but that is in doubt.) There have been and still are Excite, WebCrawler, Lycos, Infoseek and AltaVista, Dogpile, MSSearch and others, but Google’s search engine is still most popular, though evidence is strong that younger people prefer Yahoo!.

There is much more to Google’s success than simply a more flexible search engine. Early on, Google started to auction the space alongside its searches. It can do this because of the kind of information it gathers about the searchers, (and this is one of the three major complaints against Google.) Google has cornered the market on searches because it makes things so easy for people looking to buy on the internet. They do this several ways, the most significant is to place a file, a "cookie" on the viewer’s computer. This cookie is part of a system by which your machine is given a geographically unique identifier, and your travels across the internet are recorded and stored by Google. When your machine searches for "support hose" Google tailors the ads alongside the search results for your individual history. If you’ve already purchased support hose in the past, Google may know it and will direct you to that seller, or a competitor who paid more for your attention.

However, Google might track even more than that. Google spokespersons have long claimed that Google doesn’t know who You are, it just knows things about you (unless you use Gmail or Google Groups). But there are many who doubt that Google doesn’t keep individual names and contact information. The Federal Trade Commission recently instructed Google to create a privacy policy that explains the risks and controls the data, but Google continues to gather all the data it can.

Not only is it relatively easy to do so, it is information that is wonderfully valuable.

There are two problems with this, which are more or less important depending on your expectation of privacy.

The first is, you become a sitting duck for the highest bidder for your information. That information might include health information, which is useful to all kinds of employer, insurer and marking groups.

The second issue is that Google has, in the past, put up little more than a token struggle to keep governments from getting user information.

How important these issues are depends on your view of what constitutes "privacy". If you are older, you probably keep your financial and personal information confidential. You probably don’t even expose your belly button without thought.

Younger users, those who grew up with MySpace and texting and so on, have a very different concept of what constitutes privacy, and in the competition for cyber attention often provide personal information that older persons never would.

For younger people, cookies make the computer more "personal". They socialize over it; they need it to be personal. This trust can often backfire, and the web makes it possible to spread information across the world in .31 seconds. For example, search on the term "nude pictures of my ex".

The more our personal information is fed into digital media, the more we are assured about "privacy", but those assurances are nothing more than promises of administrative procedure, all of which are revealed as blahblah when circumstances change. If your information exists on a computer, at your bank, your doctor’s office, your auto repair, it can easily be found and exploited. If you haven’t searched for yourself on the internet, you should. Type in your address, you can even get a picture of your house.

Google has pushed farther to integrate their system with the world of computing. It recently released Google Chrome, a browser custom made for Google’s information sharing metasystem, and in July it announced it would produce an operating system, like MS Windows or the Apple system, which will lace your computer even more tightly into the Google web.

There is another side of the power Google has over the internet. If you are a webmaster and piss Google off, they can literally hide you from the world.

There is no reason to believe that Google necessarily keeps or misuses more information than other providers, but there is more to the Google shadow. See Google steals the written word, Here.

Sidebar: Internet Safety: It’s not violating your privacy if you click "OK".

NOTE: this is not intended to substitute for proper instruction or research on internet safety. Users should seek more detailed information elsewhere: Google "internet privacy".

The cookies which make Google so suspicious are fully under the control of the computer user.

If you are a novice computer user, your computer is probably full of webbugs, tracking cookies, viruses, backdoor orifices, keyloggers, and every other kind of information gathering software which are easily delivered through emails, freeware downloads and just visiting pages. It is estimated that an unprotected computer surfing the internet normally will become infected with one or more serious viruses within 15 minutes. If you are a very experienced computer user, there are probably only a few.

Cookies do work for you; they narrow your searches and remember your passwords. However, that computer sloppiness can cost you big time in terms of privacy.

In general, don’t be lazy about your computer.

What we do:
Never check the box that says "remember me on this computer" because it allows a cookie, maybe a tracking cookie, to be placed on your computer.

Set browser (the software you surf the internet with) settings to reject all but "session" cookies; reject Google’s 35 year cookies.

Use a good program to completely clean your browser history and all cookies.

Always use a good anti-virus; set it to update as needed, and to scan every day.

Pay for email. Free email services own your emails, in general. Read the fine print associated with your email program, and reject it if it says it owns your "content".

Don’t download or use Google’s toolbar for Internet Explorer, don’t use Google Chrome. These devices will follow you where ever you go on the internet, and will provide the information to Google, and so others. Better yet, use Mozilla’s Firefox, though even that has been "tainted" by several year’s support from Google. (Mozilla is essentially a non-profit corporation).

Read this:

What does the Sierra County Prospect know about you?
Almost nothing. We don’t use Google Analytics, which would keep very specific information about who views and what they view. If you subscribe, we have your email address, and maybe your name if you give it. We don’t share this information with anyone, and it is kept in a password protected file.


Sidebar: Yahoo! Vs. Google

  1. On page open, Yahoo has a lot of commercial clutter whereas Google’s front page is clean.
  2. Searching for Sierra County Prospect, Google’s search prompt required only "Sierra County P" to find the Prospect; Yahoo’s prompt required "Sierra County Prosp", showing Google’s prompt works better for important searches.
  3. Google found 78,000 documents in .31 seconds; Yahoo found 2,140,000 possible hits in .15 seconds. The .16 seconds doesn’t seem like a big deal, but Yahoo found many more hits, far too many. Most of those hits will either be duplicates, or will have the word "sierra" or the word "county" instead of "Sierra County Prospect." Google’s search results are more pertinent.

Yahoo is generally found to have younger (18-34) users world wide, uses much the same market plan and also has groups, email and blogs.

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