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Will You Trust Google with Your Searching, Emails, and YouTube Viewing?

Blog post by on February 27, 2012 No Comments

The changes are fairly minor. Yet, there’s been a furor surrounding the new policy. Why? Google is trying to be more forthright and explicit about what information it gathers, what information it stores, and what information it shares. Many people, myself included, have been semi-comfortable enjoying convenient tools and more targeted advertising even though we know that every move we make online is logged and analyzed by Google’s automated systems and then that information is aggregated and used to ensure that advertisers’ ads will turn up in front of people who are looking for their products and services (or to people who will be receptive to those offers).

I believe that what has made me much more uncomfortable about this quid pro quo over the past year is my reluctant awareness that, in the U.S. at least, the Patriot Act and other government programs that are ostensibly designed to protect us are empowering the U.S. government to demand warrantless access to the logs of our online behavior. Who has the most complete picture of what we do and care about? Google. What does Google do with that information? It keeps the logs linked to our profiles for 18 months before it severs the connection to our identity and makes the information non-attributable to a particular person. And, when a government agency makes a “legal request,” Google complies by handing over the logs of what it knows about our online activities for the last 18 months. While I am not a terrorist nor a pedophile, I don’t know what behavior of mine could trigger a sudden interest on the part of Big Brother.

Google-Wants-You-to-Enrich-Your-Profile-lg

NO TRACK BROWSER BUTTON! Based largely on the flap caused by the revelation that Google had circumvented the “Browse Privately” facilities built into Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s IE browsers, today the Wall Street Journal announced that a consortium of Internet companies, Google included, had agreed to implement a universal “No Track” button. We don’t have all the implementation details yet. As I say in the accompanying article, I hope that this will make it easy for us to turn tracking on and off based on what we’re doing. Why would we even want tracking on? Generally having our Web behavior tracked and associated with our cookies is the payment we make for having easy login and a customized experience and being able to save and share items of interest. According the Wall Street Journal article, entitled, “Web Firms to Adopt ‘No Track’ Button,” by Julia Angwin:

“The new do-not-track button isn’t going to stop all Web tracking. The companies have agreed to stop using the data about people’s Web browsing habits to customize ads, and have agreed not to use the data for employment, credit, healthcare or insurance purposes. But the data can still be used for some purposes such as “market research” and “product development” and can still be obtained by law enforcement officers. The do-not-track button also wouldn’t block companies such as Facebook Inc. from tracking their members through “Like” buttons and other functions.”

~ Julia Angwin

Like most of you, I’m also keenly aware of how much cybercrime there is (most of it intentionally unreported in the press) and how vulnerable we all are to having our information hacked, our credit cards compromised, our identities stolen, and our reputations sullied. And yet, like most of you, I persist in doing business online, interacting with colleagues and customers online, searching online, tweeting, posting, and using all the great and convenient tools that come my way without thinking much about “the dark side.”

I’ve spent much of the last week trying to sift through what the new Google privacy policy means to me and to you. It’s complicated by the fact that there are so many different overlapping relationships we may each have with Google services. You may use Google as a casual consumer, or your organization may have standardized on Gmail and Google Apps. You may be an avid Google+ fan. Or you may use an Android phone, but you aren’t really aware that Android locks you into Google. So understanding what a unified privacy policy means across all of these platforms and relationships is difficult.

One idea I found useful was Esther Dyson’s idea of turning a dull document like Terms of Service or a Privacy Policy into a multiple choice quiz. So I made an attempt to capture at least some of the questions I had vis a vis my relationship to Google in the form of a quiz to which I would like to know all the answers.

Please add your own insights and your own questions to this quiz. We’ll try to get Google to tell us what the correct answers are!

What Questions Do We Want in the Google Privacy Disclosure Quiz?

USING GOOGLE SEARCH, EMAIL, AND OTHER APPS WHEN LOGGED INTO A FREE GOOGLE ACCOUNT. If I were to design a Google Privacy Disclosure Quiz, to better educate consumers about what the risks are, here are the questions I would include about what information about ourselves we trade when we use Google’s free advertising-supported applications:

1. When I have a free consumer account at Google, what user profile information does Google collect and retain about me?

a. First Name, Last Name, Email address
b. Gender, Age
c. Phone Number
d. Credit Card number and billing address (if I use Google Checkout)
e. Who my contacts are
f. Who I have included in my Google+ Circles
g. All of the above
h. Some of the above (only a thru d)

2. What additional demographic information does Google get from 3rd parties and connect to my profile?

a. Household income
b. Ethnicity
c. Credit Score
d. All of the above and more

3. What behavior information does Google track when I’m logged into any Google account using a consumer (free) account with cookies enabled?

a. What Internet Service Provider or mobile network provider I’m using

b. Where I am located (if I have location services on)

c. What device I am using to access the Internet

d. What browser I am using

e. What applications and services I’m using

f. Phone numbers I call using Google services

g. Who I am (e.g. what my account profile is)

h. 100% of the search words I use, 100% of the items I click on, 100% of items downloaded or viewed (unless I turn Web History off or pause it).

i. My Contacts’ contact information

j. All of the Above

k. All of the Above except my contacts’ contact information

4. When Google shares this information with advertisers in its network, this information is:

a. Anonymous (not connected to my profile information)

b. Analyzed and aggregated along with other users’ information so that I am essentially anonymous

c. Both

d. Neither

5. If I opt out of customized Google Display Network Ads, Google will:

a. Disable the ad tracking cookie for my account

b. Will no longer provide ads that are targeted to my demographic and interests

c. Will no longer collect and associate my interests nor my demographics with my browser ID (even if I am logged into a free Google account)

d. All of the above

e. None of the above

USING GOOGLE SEARCH, EMAIL, AND OTHER APPS WHEN LOGGED INTO A PAID GOOGLE APPS ACCOUNT. When I am using my business, education or government paid Google Apps account, Google will still know and track the following information about me:

1. When I have a paid business, education or government Google Apps account at Google, what user profile information does Google collect and retain about me?

a. My first and last name
b. My email address
c. My phone number

2. What behavior information does Google track when I’m logged into my Google account using a paid Google Apps business account with cookies enabled?

a. What Internet Service Provider or mobile network provider I’m using
b. Where I am located (if I have location services on)
c. What device I am using to access the Internet
d. What browser I am using
e. What applications and services I’m using
f. Phone numbers I call using Google services
g. Who I am (e.g., what my account profile is)
h. My Google+ public posts
i. My Google+ circles and who is in those circles
j. Any photos on which I’m publicly tagged
k. What I have indicated I like by using +1

3. Assuming my business account has advertising turned off, am I correct in assuming that Google does NOT:

a. Collect and log my search history

b. Track what I click on and what I download (except on any website I visit that has Google analytics enabled, but that tracking is not linked to my Google apps account)

c. Scan and analyze my email and keep those logs, except to make it easier for me to search and find things within my own email account

d. Track and analyze my contacts’ information or my interactions with any of my contacts

4. Since Google’s Services are hosted in the cloud on distributed servers throughout the world, I realize that:

a. Google will not tell me in which country(ies) my organization’s and users’ data resides

b. Google will not tell me in which country(ies) my organizations’ and my users’ data is being processed

We’ve probably missed some questions to which you’d like to know the answers, and, frankly, we don’t know what the right answers are to all of the questions in this sample Google Privacy quiz. However, I agree with Esther Dyson that presenting this type of information in the form of a multiple choice quiz helps us pay much more attention to the tradeoffs we’re making than we do when we try to read and digest a typical privacy policy statement.

Here’s my article on this:

How Does Google’s Privacy Policy Affect You?
It’s Time to Pay Attention to How Google Is Tracking Your Online Behavior
By Patricia B. Seybold, CEO and Senior Consultant, Patricia Seybold Group, January 12, 2012

Republished with author's permission from original post.

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