Have you typed in your name on #Google Maps' search bar? A lot of users have, and found out Google might be able to tell where they were born, what college they attended or one of the last places they have visited. It sounds creepy, but it is part of this new reality - internet companies gather a lot of data about their users and are able to build complete profiles on them. The thing with Google is that it can go full circle, as mosts people does use Google Search, YouTube, Gmail, #Android, Maps, and other services. Should you be worried?
"The first step in controlling your data is understanding what data Google has on you, including any metadata, or data that you're not even aware of the fact that you're disclosing," Dr. Richard Tynan, technologist at London-based Privacy International, tells Blasting News. That includes data that can be linked to you or your account, he adds. "Google needs to come clean about everything they collect about us, and what they do with this information, and give us the right to control this information," he argues.
So how do you know what Google has on you? Do your research. The most important step is going to google.com/settings/ and checking your account history. You can also:
- Go to google.com/settings/ads and see what info about pages you visited and how long you stayed there is available. Opt out if you don't want this info collected.
- Search your name on Google Maps and see what comes up
- Go to maps.google.com/locationhistory and see if you're sharing your location with the company via Android
- Check permissions at #Security.google.com/settings/security/permissions
UK's Privacy International is an organisation that promotes the right to privacy across the world, and, like others (such as the U.S. based Electronic Frontier Foundation), asks Google to be more transparent. Dr. Tynan defends it's hard to critique Google's privacy practices because they have not explained the full extent of the data they have collected and what they do with it. "Google has not stepped up to this challenge," he points out. "As new technologies give Google even deeper penetration into our lives and homes, it has to rise to the challenge this poses."
On yesterday's opening keynote of conference I/O, in San Francisco, Google did announce a meaningful update coming in Android M - apps will no longer force users to accept permissions when installing, only before using features for the first time, and they will be able to control it on settings.
At the same time, the new service the brand has just announced, Photos, automatically backs up photos and videos to the cloud. Gartner analyst Van L. Baker contends there might be mixed reactions to that, "because photos are very personal and some people will feel a little funny about having their entire photo library stored in the cloud," not knowing if somebody else can leverage the data in those photos. "But that's the tradeoff you get for the free storage," he maintains. Fellow analyst Mark Hung has a less dubious position on that, stating that "people don't feel like privacy is an issue anymore," at least in America, where Google is based. What about the rest of the world?