Should We Trust Online Companies With Our Intimate Details?

It has become the norm to trust large online corporations with intimate details of our lives. Is this really a good idea? Here’s a page that explains pretty simply why its probably not a good idea, and here’s a longer article by the Atlantic. Most large online companies today take an very arrogant stance on privacy issues, and are often found to be actively invading our privacy. This is probably because their business models rely on exploiting the information they can gather about you. Let’s take Google as an example, because it’s an example of company that, if you use their services, probably knows more about you than even your spouse or closest friend. Here’s a list of known Google violations in a recent article by IVPN:

Last week saw Google slapped with a $22.5 million fine by the US Federal Trade Commission, in order to settle allegations that the search giant broke its privacy policy, by secretly tracking the browsing habits of millions of people who use Apple’s Safari browser…

Last week’s FTC ruling, wasn’t the first time Google’s been wrist-slapped around privacy violations. In March 2011 Google was found guilty of deceiving users and violating its own privacy policy when it launched Buzz in 2010. Buzz – a geo-location social network similar to Foursquare – harvested personal information from Gmail users without permission and exposed private data.

The FTC’s ruling on Buzz, resulted in a settlement that forced Google to submit to independent privacy audits for the next 20-years. It also stipulated that Google cannot make privacy misrepresentations. But Google’s inability to adhere to this last point is precisely what caused the FTC to impose its record fine last week, which hardly inspires confidence.

But the biggest privacy scandal concerning Google concerns Google Streetview. In 2010 German regulators forced Google to reveal its Streetview cars were collecting personal data from private WiFi connections, as they roamed across the country. The data included personal emails, passwords and images. Google said the data collection was unintentional and not intended for any Google products.

However, it turns out – surprise surprise – that Google lied. In fact, an engineer at Google designed the software included in the Streetview cars to specifically to collect data. This engineer even shared his plans and documents with the rest of the Streetview team. The FCC therefore concluded that Google “intended to collect, store and review” the data. The FCC also concluded that this data was probably intended to be used in other Google products.

Did you get that? Google deployed cars around the country to spy on private WiFi connections and collect your personal emails, messages and images, with the probable intention of profiting from such information.

All the FCC did in the above case was impose a laughable $25,000 fine on Google for obstructing the investigation. Apparently Google’s data collection was not breaking any specific laws. However, the case has been reopened in the UK because – guess what – yep, Google lied to UK regulators too.

You can read about more questionable practices here. Do these actions sounds like the actions of a trustworthy company? Former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, suggested in 2009 that privacy should only be of a concern of those that have something to hide. This is a misunderstanding of privacy, and it’s probably deliberate. See this paper for a full explanation of the “nothing to hide” argument make no sense. Privacy isn’t about having nothing to hide — it’s about having control of your personal information. Most of use would baulk at publishing our all of our emails, medical conditions, travel plans, reading lists and purchasing habits for public viewing. Yet we are publishing that information to a corporation that then takes the data, records and analyzes it in depth. Do we go this because their services are so convenient? Google isn’t the only company engaged in these practices, most online companies do so too. I suggest alternative services that ensure your privacy in a previous article.

Comments

  1. says

    Google has long been known to spy on it’s users but with all the different and convenient services it offers I can only imagine what it’s seeing in things like Chrome where it sees you log into your bank or enter your credit card. They really are Big Brother.

  2. Sam says

    Its curious that a government that illegally spies on its own citizens and then retroactively makes their actions legal, who has facilities that monitor and eavesdrop on worldwide communication, who rationalize their own corruption and incompetence with laws like the Patriot Act that further erode our privacy and civil liberties is pointing a finger at anyone.
    And just like the financial crises that was legislated by lobbyists that bought off the the Congress and the Clinton Administration that signed into law the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which exempted credit-default swaps from regulation and the Community Reinvestment Act, its them, the extortionists/criminal elite and their puppets that collect the fines and not the people who actually suffered through these experiences.
    The title of the article is rhetorical absurdity. There is no one in America you can trust.

  3. says

    The privacy of an individual in this time should be closely guarded. When we read George Orwell’s 1984 or sat in college lecture halls listening to our contemporaries speak of technology and it’s grasp on the future, I wish we’d of paid it more attention. With the proliferation of data and those hardware that collect it, personal information is everywhere and available for a price. Protect it like you would your child.

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