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What it means to one man and why he is concerned

January 29, 2012

Chronicle News & Opinion

It was once said that some online marketing companies are amassing the kinds of dossiers on individuals that “the Nazis could have only dreamed of.”

The concern has always been, where is this all headed?

Year after year online companies get more and more intrusive into the personal habits of millions of Americans (and millions elsewhere in the world) who are now living just as much in the virtual world as they do in the bricks and mortar world.

And one of the companies at the top of the concern list for many privacy advocates and tech heads alike is Google, what with its now cross-platform following and prying and data gathering – from Google searches to what you’re doing on YouTube to what you bought today to where you will have dinner tonight to having access to every word you write or receive in Gmail to now including all your phone communication habits and purchases on that Android operating system phone – many people are coming to view Google as the “Big Brother” that struck fear into the hearts of humans in the book “1984.”

And Google recently announced a new "privacy" policy that isn't doing a thing to reassure many that their fears about the company were unfounded.

Google announced a huge change in its privacy policy Tuesday that, as one report in Business Insider puts it:

“Is going to make your digital advertising experience a whole lot creepier -- using everything from your favorite YouTube videos to your Gmail contact list to tailor ads specifically to you. The intent is for Google to know what you're doing right now -- like literally this second -- and serve you ads based on that. The search giant wants to know if you're late for a meeting, for instance, or whether you can spell your friends' names properly.”

On March 1st more than 60 of Google’s privacy policies will be pared down to just one: one that allows Google to share users' information across all of its services, including YouTube, Gmail, and Google +.

Why is Google doing this?


Because, according to various reports, it wants to know even more about you to sell more of you to advertisers so Google can make more money.

You know, pimp you out to advertisers in essence.

The Washington Post says this about the change in policy, “If someone watches an NBA clip online and lives in Washington, the firm could advertise Washington Wizards tickets in that person’s Gmail account."

So what’s wrong with that? After all, no one has to use any of Google’s products or services, right? They can simply not use an Android phone or Gmail or YouTube or the Google search engine or any other company Google might buy in the future…but…. wait a minute.

Is that so? Can anyone now really, in a practical sense, escape Google’s huge, pervasive reach and 24/7 prying and watching and logging eyes?

Is it practical for you to dump your Android phone, never do another Google search, and bail out of Gmail and YouTube?

And what if you did that and did find alternative service platforms for all those things. What happens to your “free will” and ability in the “free market” to choose should Google down the line buy up (with its billions of dollars) those companies as it has others?

After all, there was a time when Google did not own YouTube.

Where will the data gathering on you and millions like you stop?

Is there ever a stopping point?


In a new piece in Mother Jones, Kevin Drum says he’s worried and bothered by all this and should you be as well.

Here’s Drum on Google:

“What's my problem? Why do I care if Google serves up ads that are a little more suited to my tastes? The truth is that I don't. What I do care about, though, is the obvious corollary: Google's main purpose in life, as you'd expect from any big, public company, is making money. And the way they make money is by helping third parties sell you stuff. Here, then, is the nut of the thing, from the same blog post announcing the new privacy policy:

Finally, what we're not changing. We remain committed to data liberation, so if you want to take your information elsewhere you can. We don't sell your personal information, nor do we share it externally without your permission…

Do you find that reassuring? I decidedly don't. If Google can change its privacy policy today, it can change it tomorrow. And it will. No company is an unstoppable juggernaut forever, and Google is already showing signs of becoming an ordinary corporation that has to scrap for profits just like everyone else. This is what's motivating their policy change this week, and someday it's likely to motivate them to sell my personal information after all.”

And therein lies the big golden walnut.

In the future Google can change the terms to anything it wants.

But by then it will have constructed such a massive dossier on you, your habits, where you live, what you buy, where your work, who your family and friends are, what porn sites you visit (or don’t) what kinky sex toys you like to buy, how many rounds of .223 and .45 caliber auto ammo you have in the house, where and when you bought that tricked out 22-round, 9mm handgun with laser sites (that you now keep in your gun safe at home that Google knows all about) to the affair you are carrying on with a married co-worker to….well…you get the picture.

And when Google has all this and more on you, they can simply - as they have done this week - change their privacy policy again (after all, Google owns it) and then sell all that data about you to the highest bidder.

All of it.

All the things that could potentially wreak havoc in your life. Secrets. Secrets you were lulled into revealing over years and years in a variety of ways because you never thought anyone would ever sell that stuff. Ever.


You trusted a corporation - that has no allegiance to you whatsoever - to protect you. You trusted people you never met and never will meet to protect you.

You trusted strangers in a cloud somewhere with all your secrets

Hmmmm. You think a potential employer might like to know some of that stuff about you?

After all, by then Google will know all the places you’ve applied to for a job. It will know every word in your resume. Is it a stretch to think that Google will not hesitate for a second to sell that valuable data to ALL those potential employers?

After all, the only rule of data gathering is this: you do not go to the expense of collecting and sifting through and storing such data unless you intend to make money with it.

No one in their right mind - particularly those who have shareholders to serve - spends that kind of money to gather that much data on a human being just to have it sit in a vault somewhere safe, never to be seen by human eyes.

And how about the federal government? You think maybe the feds (with the way things are going of late in this country when it comes to individual liberties) might like to know about all those guns and all that ammo you have in the house that you purchased legally and that is none of their business and all those searches you made about how to make home made fireworks or (God forbid) how to make a bomb just because you were curious about that stuff?

You think the President of the United States signing off on legislation recently that in effect kills the protection of habeas corpus for Americans might come into play some day with all that data about you the feds will be able to buy from Google?

But hey, you can always opt out of Google’s products right?

Drum again:

“If I want to close my Google accounts, they'll let me. But if I use an Android smartphone—and this is plainly one of the primary targets of Google's new policy—that will be pretty hard. And after years of using Google products like Gmail and YouTube, it's not as easy as it sounds to simply export all your data and move to a new platform. In reality, very few people will do this. Google is counting on the fact that they'll grumble a bit, like I'm doing, and then get on with their lives.”

That’s what Google is counting on.

But Drum, like a growing body of “others”, says he is not ready yet to throw in the towel because he looked down the road and the light he saw at the end of the tunnel was not a benevolent spirit from the other side – it was freight train going 100 miles per hour and firing .50 caliber machine guns in his direction.

“It's bad enough that Google can build up a massive and—if we're honest, slightly scary—profile of my activities, but it will be a lot worse when Google and Facebook and Procter & Gamble all get together to merge these profiles into a single huge database and then sell it off for a fee to anyone with a product to hawk. Or any government agency that thinks this kind of information might be pretty handy,” adds Drum.

“So that's why I'm unhappy. I don't believe for a second that Google's policy against selling personal information will last forever.”

So the grand question is this: do you believe for a second that Google's policy against selling personal information will last forever? Do you trust a huge corporation whose only legal allegiance now is to shareholders to keep making them more and more money and “beating those quarterlies”?

And if it does do that – sell all the dope is has on you some day - do you have any idea how that might affect your life 5, 10, 15 years down the road?

Will you really be able to get that great job you’ve trained for, gone to school for, sweated blood and money for, when those perspective employers find about all those weird Google searches you made, all the guns and ammo in the basement you bought legally, all the kinky sex stuff you bought legally and all the four-ways you are still doing at home with the wife and two neighbors?

Here’s your answer (maybe) .

Do you know that many years ago when the feds started handing out Social Security numbers they assured Americans it was not a “national ID number”.

It was just a number, they swore, that would forever be kept secret between you and your trustworthy government so you could get your Social Security checks when you retired.

No one would ever know your Social Security number, the government assured folks.

Trust us, they said. That’s what they said to placate the fearful, concerned huddled masses.

Trust us.



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