Convenience vs Privacy

5 03 2012

Google recently announced some significant changes to its privacy policy (changes which took effect a couple of days ago). If you’re a regular user of one of Google’s products (search, Gmail, YouTube, etc.), then you probably saw the news prominently displayed on these sites for the past few weeks. Basically, the company took is 60+ different privacy policies from various products and sites and combined them into one single “easy to use” policy. From Google’s organizational efficiency standpoint, this is probably a welcome change. But this single privacy policy also has a significant business advantage too: now Google can share your data between its services more easily. It’s not that Google is collecting more data, they are just consolidating it; for example, your viewing habits on YouTube can help the company advertise to you better on Gmail.

Not surprisingly, some government regulators and privacy watchdogs have suggested that these changes may be more “user friendly” but they strip away some of the privacy of individual users. There are concerns in the EU that the current policy does not adhere to their “Directive on Data Protection” and here in Canada concerns are being raised by the Privacy Commissioner. Issues include: there doesn’t seem to be a clear way of opting-out of the new policy; the policy does not explain if users can easily set up different accounts with each Google service (to avoid data consolidation); its unclear how long your data will remain in the Google ecosystem even after you’ve asked for it to be deleted. The privacy debate continues…

The CBC has more on the story here.


Fast and loose with facts

2 10 2011

The BBC has an interesting video/short article on the fact that young people are a little too reliant on the grand old Internet. Instead of doing a little bit of digging, most young people simply believe whatever they encounter online. Check the source? Who has time for that?

After watching the video I was struck by the sentiment that the websites and stories must be true because they were delivered by Google – as if Google performs some sort of “fact-check” for us when we search. Relevancy algorithms and popularity rankings don’t necessarily deliver the best quality information on the first try (it’s called re-search for a reason).

Here’s the story from the BBC, or check out the video on YouTube below

Cooking the books: Search engine style

23 09 2011

Google has come under fire recently for being a “monopoly.” This position, as the accusation goes, allows the company to favour its own products in search results (and, more nefariously, bury its competitors’ products). The company recently addressed this issue at a Congressional hearing in Washington where the chairman (Eric Schmidt) claimed that they were not “cooking” results. But they’re not out of the woods yet – both the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the European Commission continue to investigate such anti-trust issues. Hmm… this sounds a lot like Microsoft a few years back… and the cycle repeats.

Read more from the BBC.

The new hard drive

12 10 2010

In a post on Google’s official blog, the company announced that engineers have been designing and test driving a car that can drive itself. According to their records the cars have logged 140,000 miles already – and some of those miles have been in real traffic conditions. While the technology make make automated vehicles a reality, the question remains are we really willing to let software take the wheel?

Read more detail directly from Google’s blog.

Google v. China

13 01 2010

Google and China have a long history (at least in Internet years). China has consistently required search engines to censor search results that the government didn’t want the public to have access to (discussion of human rights issues, material on democracy, Tibet, etc.). In order to operate in China and have access to a large growing market, Google (among other search engines) has had to comply–albeit grudingly–with China’s demands.

Ars Technica has an interesting report that Google is seriously considering dropping the practice of censoring results–and may have to shut its doors in China as a result. Why you ask? Well, it seems as though Google is getting frustrated by sophisticated cyberattacks that have originated in China. Some experts suspect that at least some of the attacks are from the Chinese government itself. Why? Well, one reason might be to steal potentially valuable corporate intelligence. Indeed, Google claims that in a recent attack some of their intellectual property was stolen.  

Read more Google’s new approach to China on the company’s official blog.

Read further commentary from Ars Technica.

Switzerland erased from Google

17 11 2009

Okay, well not exactly… but Switzerland is upset about Google’s street view application. Switzerland’s privacy watchdog is concerned that the service could potentially expose too much information about people – especially without consent from individual citizens. So far Google has been slow to adapt the changes requested by the government, forcing officials to take them to court. Other European countries (notably Germany) have stated similar concerns about privacy and Street view. We’ll see where this goes…

Read more from the CBC.

Where were you 10 months ago? [update]

10 09 2008

In order to comply with European privacy demands and data protection laws, Google plans to reduce the amount of time it stores search information from 18 months to 9 months (see this post). Google has always claimed that they use the data to improve their search results – which is probably largely true; however, as the internet darling continues to grow and dominate (see previous post) it isn’t surprising that regulators are getting nervous.

Read more on the story here.