The changes are fairly minor. Yet, there’s been a furor surrounding the new policy. Why? Google is trying to be more forthright and explicit about what information it gathers, what information it stores, and what information it shares. Many people, myself included, have been semi-comfortable enjoying convenient tools and more targeted advertising even though we know that every move we make online is logged and analyzed by Google’s automated systems and then that information is aggregated and used to ensure that advertisers’ ads will turn up in front of people who are looking for their products and services (or to people who will be receptive to those offers).
I believe that what has made me much more uncomfortable about this quid pro quo over the past year is my reluctant awareness that, in the U.S. at least, the Patriot Act and other government programs that are ostensibly designed to protect us are empowering the U.S. government to demand warrantless access to the logs of our online behavior. Who has the most complete picture of what we do and care about? Google. What does Google do with that information? It keeps the logs linked to our profiles for 18 months before it severs the connection to our identity and makes the information non-attributable to a particular person. And, when a government agency makes a “legal request,” Google complies by handing over the logs of what it knows about our online activities for the last 18 months. While I am not a terrorist nor a pedophile, I don’t know what behavior of mine could trigger a sudden interest on the part of Big Brother.
NO TRACK BROWSER BUTTON! Based largely on the flap caused by the revelation that Google had circumvented the “Browse Privately” facilities built into Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s IE browsers, today the Wall Street Journal announced that a consortium of Internet companies, Google included, had agreed to implement a universal “No Track” button. We don’t have all the implementation details yet. As I say in the accompanying article, I hope that this will make it easy for us to turn tracking on and off based on what we’re doing. Why would we even want tracking on? Generally having our Web behavior tracked and associated with our cookies is the payment we make for having easy login and a customized experience and being able to save and share items of interest. According the Wall Street Journal article, entitled, “Web Firms to Adopt ‘No Track’ Button,” by Julia Angwin:
“The new do-not-track button isn't going to stop all Web tracking. The companies have agreed to stop using the data about people's Web browsing habits to customize ads, and have agreed not to use the data for employment, credit, healthcare or insurance purposes. But the data can still be used for some purposes such as "market research" and "product development" and can still be obtained by law enforcement officers. The do-not-track button also wouldn't block companies such as Facebook Inc. from tracking their members through "Like" buttons and other functions.”
~ Julia Angwin
Like most of you, I’m also keenly aware of how much cybercrime there is (most of it intentionally unreported in the press) and how vulnerable we all are to having our information hacked, our credit cards compromised, our identities stolen, and our reputations sullied. And yet, like most of you, I persist in doing business online, interacting with colleagues and customers online, searching online, tweeting, posting, and using all the great and convenient tools that come my way without thinking much about “the dark side.”
Please add your own insights and your own questions to this quiz. We’ll try to get Google to tell us what the correct answers are!
Here's my article on this:
It’s Time to Pay Attention to How Google Is Tracking Your Online Behavior
By Patricia B. Seybold, CEO and Senior Consultant, Patricia Seybold Group, January 12, 2012