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Google Is Watching You--Way More than You Knew

My_search_history_4 When I was in college, I read Badenheim 1939 by Aharon Appelfeld. It's the story of a fictional Jewish resort in Austria. During the summer of 1939, the "Department of Sanitation" begins to visit every single home, asking oddly detailed questions that people quickly answer, seeing nothing amiss. The book ends with the town being carted off to a concentration camp, having made the job of the Department of Sanitation infinitely easier by their willingness to answer such personal questions, giving the Nazis exactly what they needed to more efficiently send them to their deaths.

That book has always haunted me and after reading this article by Wes Fryer on Google History, I was reminded once again of how much information we are giving to a single organization that may or may not have our best interests in mind.

Of course Google History is being sold as a great service to you that allows you to get more personalized results, find sites that you visited previously but didn't bookmark and track personal search trends (apparently I'm big on searches on Mondays and Tuesdays--the weekends? Not so much). All of this is true--it IS kind of interesting. But at the same time, it makes me nervous to think that my every search is being recorded. In the hands of Google, that may mean nothing. But in the hands of others, that could be a real problem.

I'm not sure how I feel about this, except that it makes me a little uneasy. That may sound strange coming from someone who champions transparency as I do. But still, there's something that doesn't sit well with me on this. . .

Help me think this through? Am I just being paranoid today? Or is there something amiss?


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Since Google is a US company that means that the Dept of Homeland Security is also using these data for who knows what :-(

Yes, Harold--this is EXACTLY what I worry about! It's a shame that I can't have faith in my own government, but I truly don't.

Hi Michelle

I sense a theme in some of your posts of late: the online identity issues you have been exploring, and now your concerns about privacy. I completely understand this and think your questions are very timely. Suddenly we are reading warnings in posts that remind us that information we put out there will never go away, and to be careful about what we post for the world to see. Good advice of course.

In many ways, we're in a new kind of Big Brother world of our own making. How we handle him (I'm thinking right now of HAL the computer in 2001 A Space Odyssey) is really up to us. Time for a screwdriver and some human ingenuity, coupled I would think, with common sense about just how much personal stuff you feel like sharing with a whole bunch of strangers. Paranoia? Don't think so, just healthy caution with a dash of scepticism.

I am not a US citizen, but I imagine the US Department of Homeland Security could find out all about me if it wanted to. I've been photographed and fingerprinted on my frequent visits to one of my favourite countries, so I know I'm in the system.

Kate, I think you're right that we're "in a new kind of Big Brother world of our own making." About six months ago I was reading about EZPass, which is a way for us Americans to pay tolls quickly as we're driving. The article talked about the fact that this means that the government now has a record of our driving habits--this stuff has already been used in court in divorce cases and I'm sure will continue to show up.

The point of the article was that under the guise of "convenience," we're giving away all kinds of information without really thinking through what this means. The whole US government plan to allow travelers to move more quickly through security lines if they're willing to go through a security check is a great example of this.

It's these small things that we're giving away that on their own seem minor and to our benefit that may, in fact, be our undoing in the wrong hands. We're handing over everything that's needed for the wrong people to be making some very damaging decisions.

Kind of reminds me of this video:

Wow, Harold. Just wow. This is some seriously scary stuff that, I'm sorry to say, seems completely plausible, if not probable.

Well, you can get me started on a favorite personal household rant these days....all the ways in which we are willingly giving up our freedoms -- for the sake of convenience, for the sake of "security".

Hunter S. Thompson wrote that Americans should question whether or not they REALLY want to live in a democracy.

My next big concern is the fact that U.S. tv is going completely digital in 2008. Don't you think that means they'll be able to monitor everything we watch on tv now, too? No one is protesting the move from analog to digital, because the government says it's the right thing to do. And digital is better, right?

I don't know. It's really easy to be completely paranoid.

That's not one of the first time Google get discussed about is or is not the new Big Brothers from the web sphere. In one of the last Economist (http://ww, some economist try to put all the future service from the californian company into a spying strategy to devellop an protable privacy market. OK, nobody really know what's the posistion between free web services access and money, but which company do not use our informations to create value ? On the other hand, which company makes more profitable results for the user than for itself than Google ? History integration into open and free application & privacy spying are two different thing.
I accord with Michel about getting really paranoid, but i feel less like a target customer using Google service than being on a page 60% commercial like are these from Microsoft, Yahoo and other profit companies.

I need your opinions on this subject :

Well, I am searching for information or people who are feeling the way you do, so I would not think of you as paranoid. This has been concerning me. i am trying not to use there engine, yet it seems to already be penetrated into the IP, regardless. What I particularly don't like is what they don't tell us about the information. For instance, I believe they are "idea sponges". Meaning, they are reviewing the most interesting search content for the day. Basically, they are stealing ideas and thoughts...possibly inovating other peoples creativity. Do you ever feel you thought of something first? And then later find some big corporation used your idea to make billions? Am i paranoid, or is Google diabolic?

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