Google Owns You

Google, whose corporate creed includes the motto "You can make money without doing evil," has announced that it will retain personal data on individual Web surfers' searches for only 2 years. And in an another amazing example of TP (technological prevaricaton–see article below), some reporters actually bought the marketing spin that this would somehow help protect people's privacy.

Quick background: When you use Google to search for, say, "Clinton," "Clap Your Hands," or "Britney naked" (not that anyone I know would do that), the search engine pegs your search to your IP address–and then stores a record of it. Thus, if someone in the future wanted to know what subversive activities JQ had been up to, they wouldn't have to hack into my computers. All they would need to do is look through the Google records. Indeed, they could in theory go further, since Google not only tracks all of your searches, it also looks at cookies on your system, cookies which may tell them what you ordered online, what bank you use, your daughter's name,…well, you get the idea. 

Does Google warn you with a pop-up box every time you enter a search term that you are being tracked. No. Does the company tell you that every search you conduct on its site could be used against you in a court of law? No. Does the company say, "This search could be used against you in your upcoming messy divorce/fraud/terrorist legal battle." Uh, no.

Is Google's retention of such information a standard practice in the industry? No. Try Microsoft or AOL searches and you'll find they toss out the data almost immediately.There are also several search engines that explicitly don't track your searches, including one called Scroogle that submits your query anonymously to (you guessed it) Google.

The only reason Google tracks and stores all this personal data is for money. Spying on you is just incidental to the process. However, if Google really cared about people, as it professes, then it would give each of us a cut of the profit it makes from harvesting our personal information–and quit trying to trick us about how it's protecting people's privacy.


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About jquain

Technology reporter, writer, and television correspondent, JQ has been covering the computer, communications, and consumer electronics industries for more than 25 years.A contributor to The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, PC Magazine, U.S. News & World Report and many other publications, JQ appears on CBS News television program Up to the Minute and on Fox Business.
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