Google Web History: Moths to a flame
Continuing on my theme of yesterday about Google and them being the flame to which moths like us are flying straight in to — with little knowledge or regard for that fact that we could get burned whether or not Google continues to “do no evil” going forward — I give you Google Web History.
UPDATE: CNET has news on a complaint on Google filed at the Federal Trade Commission with links to some articles and sites that are really enlightening. Copy of the complaint is here (PDF) and contains this point, “The acquisition of DoubleClick will permit Google to track both a person’s Internet searches and a person’s web site visits. This could impact the privacy interests of 233 million Internet users in North America, 314 million Internet users in Europe, and more than 1.1 billion Internet users around the world.“
One reason I turned off Google Search History a few days after turning it on (the predecessor to Web History) was that I had a keen sense that allowing Google to have an audit trail of my seeking and viewing behavior was a really bad idea — especially in a day of subpoena happy law enforcement — even though I’m the prototypical model citizen. Let’s look at six applications and see why I sometimes ask myself whether I’m being paranoid, an alarmist or just watchful:
1) Gmail allows Google to match IP address to user. As long as I’m logged in and use the same browser, they’re aware of other Google services I use and could (not saying they do) collate all Google services traffic emanating from that IP address/machine (Gmail’s state is pretty persistent and perhaps you notice that their requirement to re-login are few and the session length is pretty liberal…they almost never kick me off)
2) Google Search gives them a Database of Intention (to use a term coined by John Batelle in The Search) that — since I’m logged into Gmail — is a capture of every single search ever performed. Google can undoubtedly capture my search use regardless if I’ve got Google Search History turned on or not
3) Google Analytics is so robust and free that I’ve placed their tracking code all over the web sites and web assets I own or am involved in as has virtually everyone else I know. So Google doesn’t just have the ability to spider sites, they also now have a view into process (someone’s clickstream through a site)
4) Google Maps allows them to know what I seek geographically, where I am when I use the Google Maps function on my Treo, what hotels I’m seeking as I click “Find Businesses” when searching on a map. Delivering an API so map mashups can be built has provided them with a view into over 1,000 map mashups that have been created. Google now has an ecosystem of developers giving them a huge amount of data connected to Google Maps and all the people using these mashups to find stuff
5) Google Notebook: Since I use multiple machines and am on the go often, it’s really useful to have one place online for my to do list, organized thoughts, shopping lists and more. Wow….talk about the perfect application for a company like Google to be able to gather data and perform predictive analytics! Hell….I’m *telling* them what I’m going to do, what I’m planning to buy and so forth!
6) Google Docs & Spreadsheets: When it was Writely before acquisition and renaming into Google Docs, I used this online collaboration tool for agreement creation. It keeps a version history and is an asynchronous way for people to collaborate whenever they can get to it.
I’m now questioning how much more I’m willing to give Google.
So this brings me to my semi-conclusion from yesterday which I’ll reiterate and add to today: Perhaps it’s time for the ‘sphere to pressure Google to open up and let us at least have some level of understanding of what data they’re compiling on us and how they’re using it — and let us selectively or completely opt out.
About Steve Borsch
Connecting the Dots Podcast
Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.