Is Your Privacy In Jeopardy?

February 29, 2012


Part of a short series on privacy
1. Is Your Privacy In Jeopardy?
2. The Mistaken Expectation of Privacy
3. Do We Need Internet Regulation?
4. Who Is Watching You? How And Why?

Beginning tomorrow, March 1, 2012, Google will be combining privacy policies across most of their products. This has led to alarmist commentary about how to "erase your history" before this supposedly disastrous, invasive event.


You mean there's cookies on the Internet? Ohnoes!

It is clear people are uncomfortable with the concepts of someone collecting and using data about your online activity. But these points of view are misunderstanding both how the Internet works and what exactly everyone's relationship with Google means. Let's examine the second part first.

Google is not spying on you, nor does Google have a motivation to invade your privacy. Google's motivation is purely service oriented. They are attempting to help connect you with what you want. That is the service they are selling you. They would rather show you an ad that is relevant to you than one that is not. They can only do this by storing a history of your preferences. If this idea bothers you then you can log out of Google and avoid using their products.

In fact, Google is utterly transparent about how they view you and what they think you are interested in. If you are signed into Google, you can actually contribute to their understanding of you. When in history has a company ever been so transparent about what they think about you? When have they provided you with this unique ability to participate directly in the relationship? And Google projects like Data Liberation both categorize data collected and allow you to take the data stored about you.

But even if you avoid Google, you cannot expect to have a truly private interaction with the Internet. The Internet is a public space. Essentially every thing you do online is a public event and there is very little you can do about this. Certain companies *have* offered alternatives to Google's search service, like DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo prevent "search leakage" as they call it by preventing websites from seeing referral data and by policy state that they don't save and make use of your historical interactions with their site. This is a good service to offer, but in my opinion they will never be as good at search as Google is for this very same reason. Google's personalized search has much more potential to be helpful to you because it knows about you, what you like, and what you mean when you query. In this sense, if you want to be secretive about something, use DuckDuckGo. But know this: you are still not really private.

The next post will take a step back and look at how the Internet actually works and why I think an expectation of privacy on the Internet is flawed.

About the author
Tom DiCicco

Tom DiCicco is a Client Partnership Director at Productive Edge.

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