Column - Google has become intrusive, bothersome to users
Published: Monday, February 27, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 00:02
I can't count the number of times my mother has described to me how she watched one lone, brave Chinese man, with his bags of groceries hanging by his side, defy the line of menacing tanks filled with Chinese military.
It was hot, and I was still resting comfortably in her huge belly, debating whether or not to come out and meet the world head-on like the skinny man with his groceries meeting those huge tanks head-on.
Did I feel the goose bumps running up and down my mother's arms? Probably. Tiananmen Square is like my birthmark. And at one time I held Google up there on a pedestal, right next to the man in front of the tanks.
A few years ago, during the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government created a total media blackout. Television screens went dark, pages were ripped from magazines and computers flashed HTTP 404 error messages. The Great Firewall of China refused to let their citizens commemorate one of the country's most shameful moments.
But Google fought back. Reports were released about government officials hacking Chinese citizens' Gmail accounts and "scrubbing" Google's search results of controversial images and information. The Internet giant even threatened to leave China – and give up nearly $1 billion a year – if the government kept preventing them from providing the same search results they did in other countries.
With one billion users worldwide, Google matched the force of the People's Republic and refused to bow down. I remember being so proud of them.
But now that the company has tasted that power, they're hungry for more. And they're getting it Thursday.
Many Google users have seen the little yellow popup about new privacy changes, but most have readily dismissed it and continued to use Google and its services like they always have.
You can bet Google will be checking up on you.
That doesn't sound too bad, right? A flowery little mission statement about "reflecting our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google" appears over and over again to pacify users and decrease suspicion.
But by consolidating all of their services under one blanket policy, Google will have the ability to keep tabs on your online activities like never before.
One example Google uses is how it can "help you plan your vacation." Say you receive an email about said vacation in Gmail, look up the location of the resort in Maps and enter the date of the vacation in Calendar.
Google is collecting all of that data and sharing it among its services, which means that when you use Google Search, the results will be automatically tailored based on that information.
And all the weird stuff you watch on YouTube? That will affect your search results, too.
But it's not just "tailoring" that's going on here. Google is downright keeping track of you. They're collecting "device-specific" information, such as your hardware model, operating system and phone number.
If you use Gmail to place a call, they're monitoring who you called, time and date of the calls and call duration.
They will share your email address and "other information that identifies you" on your Google+ profile, no matter what your privacy settings are.
Don't have a Google+ account? Soon you might have to, since all new users will be forced to create them in order to access other services.
The European Union is demanding that Google delay the changes until an investigation can be made to see if the new policy complies with EU law, but the company has made no plans to do so.
Stateside, lawmakers are asking the Federal Trade Commission to conduct a probe into whether the corporation is violating a settlement made last year about – you guessed it – breaching user privacy.
And trying to outsmart them is no easy task. While every Apple product ships with "private browsing" features turned on, Google has written a code that renders those features utterly useless.
At this point in time, there's not much you can do to fight this new Big Brother.
Looking over your Google Dashboard can show you what information is stored in your account, and removing your web history (under Google account settings) can help prevent some of the "tailored" search results.
Remaining logged out while using YouTube, Search and other features will also provide slightly more anonymity while you peruse the Web, but the Internet giant can still track all of your movements through your IP address.
All a little ironic for a company whose motto is "don't be evil."