Should we be wary of Google?Fabian Piau | Monday May 25th, 2015 - 11:22 PM
Google is part of our daily lives
Countless news reports are chronicling the hegemony of the US firm. Google’s success fascinates, irritates and sometimes scares. Like most Internet users, it is difficult to spend a day without using one of the services provided by Google. At some point, you ever :
- Browsed the web with Google Chrome
- Searched the Internet with Google Web Search
- Read your emails with Gmail
- Organized your appointments with Google Calendar
- Managed your photo albums with Picasa
- Chatted with your friends with Google+ or Google Hangouts
- Watched videos with YouTube
- Read books with Google Books
- Managed your documents with Google Docs
- Translated an article with Google Translate
- Planed your moves with Google Maps
- Managed your phone, contacts or alarm clock (and more) with Android
- And even more…
The giant has diversified and is now competing on all fronts (automation, robotics, automotive…). Its strategy is still focusing on individuals and how to improve everyday life. You can read this list of mergers and acquisitions by Google to convince yourself.
One search may hide another
Did you know that Google is gathering and storing all your searches? Google is able to time travel in your search history, to the nearest second. The fact that you have searched for information on your future trip to Thailand on August 10th, 2005 at 10:05 may not be very useful to you, but this information among other represent a goldmine for Google, in order to establish your very detailed profile. It is however possible to disable this feature if you go to your account’s advanced settings. This is not something that an average user does. This is not a coincidence if this setting is enabled by default. A Google search may be trivial at first, but imagine that you’re looking for:
- Cars and brand comparison, Google will determine that you will change your car soon
- Fashion and clothing throughout the year, Google will determine that you are working in this sector
- A disease and related remedies, Google will determine that you have this disease
- Tips to save money, Google will determine that you are barely making ends meet at the end of the month
Jobs, places, favourite musics, movies, cooking, hobbies or political views. These examples are fairly simple, but it can goes very far when overlapping the information. It becomes possible to tell very accurately the events of a lifetime. If you think that Facebook is the biggest player, you’re probably wrong.
You’re the product
Google is continuously collecting huge amount of data from and about its users. It builds and consolidates complete profiles of our lives, and probably knows you better than your own mother or even yourself. Google’s services are free in exchange of your personal data. It is an implicit contract that you agreed (not necessarily read) when creating your account. The data collected can be sold and used for targeted marketing campaigns, statistics, etc. After all, it is fair game!
Smile, you’re on filter
The search engine displays a customized list of results, showing only the results that are relevant to your profile. You can do this simple experiment at home: run several searches with the same set of keywords but using different Google accounts. The list of results will probably be slightly different, especially if people are different (e.g. different gender or generation). The fact that the results are relevant to the connected user is a positive aspect, but it can also be a disadvantage. The primary purpose of the Internet is to make the universal knowledge accessible with a censorship as limited as possible. If you add an intelligent filtering system on your searches, there will be articles or even entire sections of the internet that you’ll never be aware of, simply because Google has decided so. Somehow, the knowledge and access to the information become limited or even incorrect.
I’m not anti-Google
Do not be mistaken, this article is not a pamphlet against Google. I am a very satisfied user for years and it will be probably painful to navigate the web without their services. This is more of a wakeup call. It is worth to spend some time to set up your account rather than letting Google decide for you. Unfortunately, I don’t know any magic tricks to continue using Google while preserving your privacy. However, I can advise you an alternative search engine DuckDuckGo. This search engine has gained great popularity by focusing on the respect of your privacy without neglecting the relevance of the results.