Last week I wrote about the full launch of Google’s Social Search facility and the positives and negatives of ‘results from your social circle’. Not long after publishing that post I was contacted directly by a few of you voicing concerns about just how far Google intends on going in terms of violating a persons right to online privacy. This got me thinking, and it is only really when you take time out to think about Google that you realise they know a hell of a lot about us. Perhaps our online privacy has been completely lost, but in all honesty it’s a little too late for us to bolt the stable door.
On one hand we love the Internet for its freedom, and whether the latest leaked document on U.S. operations by Wikileaks or the exposure of a celebrity involved in a nude act, the fact is we enjoy this unrestricted world. Yet on the other hand we are feeling increasingly violated. We have no choice but to use Google because it is so darn good, yet we resent the fact that yesterday we searched on line for a camera and then today every banner advertisement we come across is for cameras…hmmm, strange that.
And now we have social search, which indicates that Google know far more about you than you think. They know the friends you have on Twitter, the people you like on Flikr, the websites you favour, the products you buy and the things you search for. They certainly know where you live by your IP address, they know whether you have a dog or not and they probably know your gender preferences, and it won’t be long I’m sure before they have all your Facebook information, too. To be honest there isn’t much they don’t know by now, but in a way we kind of have ourselves to blame for this.
I mean how often do you read the terms and conditions of social networking sites? How often to you use the auto-fill and password remember functions in Google? And I bet you have a Google mail address, don’t you? You see, the less you want Google to know about you the smarter you need to be. Turn off functions that capture information about your search habits and then continually make suggestions as you browse, be careful what boxes you tick and the networks you participate in.
All that said, if you want to be part of a system then you must conform to the way the system operates, and the Internet is ultimately about sharing information – it is successful because it operates on that basic premise. Some say if you have nothing to hide then why care? Well it’s not about hiding things it’s about having the freedom to control privacy. But make no mistake, that freedom is lost the minute you connect to the realm of cyber space.