Is It OK that Google Owns Us?

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2007-06-17 Print this article Print

Updated: Analysis: Given Google's overwhelming popularity, chances are that most consumers are going to put their privacy on the line.

Googles continuously raked over the coals regarding the massive amounts of PII (personally identifiable information) it collects, what it does with it, how long it retains that data and what the company might do with it if its merger with DoubleClick goes ahead. Thats all been ratcheted up to fever pitch over the past few weeks, with two new privacy headlines: complaints being voiced about Googles new Street View services photographs getting too close for comfort and Privacy Internationals having flunked Google on its privacy policies and procedures in a report published June 9. The fury boils down to one question: whether or not its OK for Google to own us.
Make no mistake, Google owns you. The ways in which it owns you are laid out in a complaint filed by EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) and other privacy groups with the Federal Trade Commission over Googles proposed merger with targeted advertising company DoubleClick. Heres the list of data that Google collects and retains and the technologies through which the company gets it, from the complaint:
  • Google search: any search term a user enters into Google;
  • Google Desktop: an index of the users computer files, e-mails, music, photos, and chat and Web browser history;
  • Google Talk: instant-message chats between users;
  • Google Maps: address information requested, often including the users home address for use in obtaining directions;
  • Google Mail (Gmail): a users e-mail history, with default settings set to retain emails "forever";
  • Google Calendar: a users schedule as inputted by the user;
  • Google Orkut: social networking tool storing personal information such as name, location, relationship status, etc.;
  • Google Reader: which ATOM/RSS feeds a user reads;
  • Google Video/YouTube: videos watched by user;
  • Google Checkout: credit card/payment information for use on other sites.
That list at some point will also likely include Google Gears (now in beta), an open-source browser extension that uses JavaScript APIs to allow users to work on Web applications when theyre offline. Google Gears will be the mesh between the Internet and a local store of data kept in a users fully searchable relational database, and thus the search giant will also gain access to data at the desktop application level. Next Page: What does Google do with all that data?

Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.

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