Tag Archives: CNET

Federal Agency Fines Google $25,000 For “Deliberately” Impeding Investigation

Seal of the United States Federal Communicatio...

It was reported yesterday that the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined Google $25,000 for not cooperating with an investigation over Google’s massive invasion of privacy involving its Street View service.

The FCC said that Google “deliberately impeded and delayed” its investigation. Google made it very difficult for investigators to gain access to employees and hid important evidence. Google did not answer emails and the company even tried to hide the identities of the employees involved in the privacy violations from two years ago.

In 2010, Google’s Street View cars collected very private information from unencrypted home computers. When Google was caught doing this it apologized and said that it didn’t deliberately try to capture private data. Soon after the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigated and sided with Google’s explanation that it was a mistake. Although the US didn’t take the massive privacy violation seriously, European countries were more concerned.

Now the FCC has come out and exposed Google’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation. This is really embarrassing for a company that claims it’s so transparent about everything it does and is cooperative with regulators. This is not the first regulators have complained about Google’s secrecy, arrogance, and unwillingness to cooperate with investigations. The French data protection agency currently investigating Google’s new privacy policy said that Google neglected to contact them before implementing their controversial and intrusive privacy policy.

The $25,000 Google is now forced to pay will do nothing to the company’s bottom line. Google raked in about $40 billion last year. Over 90% of Google’s revenues come from advertising – this means that Google makes money by selling your personal data to advertisers. This is the reason Google consolidated their privacy policies into a singular policy – it makes it easier for the company to figure you out and it’s more profitable. A Google spokesman said that the company is on a mission to combat against “the faceless Web”.

Google paying a $25,000 fine is like an average person paying a one cent fine – but don’t get too hung up on the amount of that fine. The biggest hit Google received from this new report by the FCC is its reputation. Most people think way too highly of this company and if more reports like this come out to expose Google’s dirt then the better it will be for the general public.

I love what Christina DesMarais, PCWorld, wrote in her article:

“…if Google’s uncooperative behavior is true as the FCC maintains, the obvious question is, ‘What is Google hiding?’ Consumers and advocacy groups have often criticized Google’s seemingly insatiable appetite for personal information, such as its recent consolidation of its privacy policies so as to have a better view into user behaviors and preferences. Because of the amount of attention those privacy concerns have garnered, you’d think a policy of transparency on Google’s part would bode well with those who have doubts about whether or not the company can be trusted with increasing amounts of personal data.”

Things that make you go hmmm…

For more information:

The New York Times, “Google Is Faulted for Impeding U.S. Inquiry on Data Collection” – click here

PCWorld, “Google Hit With $25K Fine, But FCC Finds Street View Data Collection Not Illegal” – click here

CNET, “FCC nails Google with $25K fine for dragging heels in StreetView probe” – click here

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Google Wants To Know More About You But Wants You To Know Less About Google

Image representing Eric Schmidt as depicted in...

Image by Charles Haynes via CrunchBase

Google’s executives don’t like when people invade their privacy – but they have no problem doing it to others. Google loves to sell our personal information to advertisers and harvest our personal data indefinitely, but the privacy of Google employees should not be messed with.

I came across this interesting article from Gawker the other day and it describes how Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, hates it when the media focuses on his personal life. Let’s get one thing straight here, this blog is not a tabloid – I couldn’t care less about the personal lives of Google employees. However, I find it hypocritical and ironic that a public figure like Mr. Schmidt gets so angry about details of his personal life leaking out.

Back in the summer of 2005, CNET published an article about privacy and Google. The CNET article included publicly available information about Mr. Schmidt and this apparently hit a nerve with Google. Google reportedly blacklisted CNET reporters for an entire year. You see, if you make Big Google mad then you better be ready for some major backlash.

It’s really interesting to read through that CNET article from seven years ago. You’ll notice how some things never change. Even back then people were complaining about lack of privacy and how Google collects tons of sensitive data about us. The one major difference between now and seven years ago is the trust people had in Google drastically dwindled. Google is no longer seen as the trustworthy and altruistic company – the “do no evil” type of company. Gone are the days Google could do whatever it wanted without much scrutiny. People are on to Google now – the public knows better.

I love how that CNET article ended – “Trust is hard to earn, easy to lose and nearly impossible to win back”.

For more information:

Gawker – click here

IBTimes – click here

CNET – click here

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Google Wants You To Enable Search History Again – Just Say No!

Remember how everybody was warning each other that you must clear your Google search history and then completely turn it off for good? Well, Google doesn’t like that very much. They want you to turn your history page back on so that they can record everything you do.

Yesterday, in Google’s official blog, they introduced a new “search experience across your devices”. What this means is that if you did a search on your personal desktop or laptop computer at home, that search detail will be available to you on your mobile smartphone anywhere you go. Google’s new privacy policy allows it to now combine what you do and share it across all Google products and services.

So let’s say you’re planning to go out to a restaurant later in the day and you searched the address of that restaurant on your desktop computer. Later in the day, as you’re traveling to get to the restaurant, you forget the address of that restaurant that you recently just searched for. No need to worry. Just pull out your smartphone and go to Google’s homepage. From there you can click on the “Recent” icon and it will pull out your search history.

Wow! I’m blown away by this new search experience…hmm, not really. Anyway, Google says that in order to take advantage of this, you must enable search history again and you must be logged in when doing your searches. Give up your privacy to Google so that you can remember restaurant addresses – sound fair and reasonable to you?

If you insist on using Google, try to protect yourself and keep Google at a safe distance. I would recommend never enabling search history and never doing searches while logged on to a Google account that has your personal information on it (like your name, address, and pictures).

You can even make multiple accounts for Google – a serious account and a frivolous account. You can create a fictional persona to attach your searches and just lie to Google.

Kevin Fogarty, who writes for ITWorld, wrote an amusing article on what you can do to better protect yourself against Google. If you’re not going to stop using Google altogether, if you’re not going to turn off tracking cookies on your browser, if you’re not going to install free add-ons to your browser to block tracking companies – you can, at the very least, just lie.

“It’s not a crime; it’s not an ethical violation. It’s not even particularly rude, considering how intimate, complete and unwanted a profile Google is building of you. Protect yourself a little without hurting anyone; be someone else for a while. If it confuses anyone trying to keep track of you online, it serves them right. No one has the right to follow you all the time without your consent. No one has the right to know everything you do. No one has the right to insist you always tell the truth when they’re asking intrusive, manipulative questions without answers to which they won’t give you the free service they promised when you hit their site in the first place.”

And if you’re really creeped out by Google, then you still have the option to back up your files stored on Google and ditch Google for good. It is possible for you to download your data from Google and then permanently delete your account. You can follow the illustration on how to do this by going to CNET “How to” page about this – click here.

For more information:

CNET, “Google saves searches across devices with ‘recent’ icon” – click here

Google’s Blog – click here

PCWorld, “Protect your online privacy: Lie” – click here

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Google Has The Ability To Know More About You Than Your Closest Friends

Big Brother 2001 (UK)

Hey – can you do something for me?

Can you guess a number? No, c’mon, just do it…guess the amount you think you’re potentially worth to Google per year. It’s really interesting to find out how much Google values you and what your sticker price is.

I’ll leave you to ponder on that for a bit, while you continue reading.

I hope you know that Google’s products and services are not “free”. The company loves to fool users into thinking that they can use Google at no cost to them whatsoever. Well, newsflash: you are paying to use Google.

Sorry to break it to you, but you pay Google by giving the company your personal data. Google couldn’t care less about your dollars – please! Keep the change, no thank you!

They rather have your personal information so that they can then sell that information to third parties (i.e. advertisers) for huge profits. Google’s business model is largely advertising based; they make over 90% of their revenues from advertising. You’re not Google customer, you’re Google product.

Google’s new privacy policy, which took effect on the first of March, means that you’re a much more attractive product to advertisers than ever before. Why is that? Well, that because advertisers can now access even more information about you than ever before – and the more information advertisers can gather to know exactly who you are, the more they are willing to pay Google.

There is now this mutated form of advertising which tailors and specifically targets ads at you. Advertisers believe that consumers will be more likely to purchase something from them if consumers receive ads directly related to what they assume you would want to buy. They can deduce what your interests are by analyzing the private information you hand over to Google, and don’t think twice about. Google is on a mission to create “the faceless web” and you unknowingly help out to accomplish that mission by signing up to Google services.

Google knows a heck of a lot of information about you already. This new privacy policy will open the flood gates so that they can extend their greedy hands to violate your privacy even more. Now that Google can combine all your information from all of Google’s services, they are creating a clearer image of you. You can no longer separate your YouTube identity from your Gmail identity, and you cannot separate your Gmail indentity from the searches you plugged into Google’s search engine. Everything will be combined together.

Think of it this way: Google previously could only see your leg here, your arm there, and your head somewhere else – without ever matching them up with one another or cross-checking. With its new privacy policy, Google can now shine a spotlight on your entire body and see you completely. You’re totally naked to Google now – there is no more hiding, no more fragmentation of your identity, and no more privacy.

In January, the European Commission decided that it was time to overhaul its already stringent data protection laws. They felt that they needed to do this because their laws needed an update. As we move deeper into the 21st century and technology continues to rapidly change the way we live our lives – laws occasionally need to be kept up to speed and renewed.  One of most important plans to their updated privacy laws is something called the “right to be forgotten”.

This right will allow users to demand Internet companies (such as Google) to permanently delete their personal data when requested to do so. This right is designed to give Internet users back control of their personal data. Google, as you might have already guessed, is against this. They will lie to your face and tell you they are in favor of it, but they’re really not. The only think they will be in favor of is a watered down version of this legal right in hopes of rendering it completely useless.

Europeans take their privacy very seriously, but Americans are exposed to privacy violations. There are barely, and I mean barely, any laws to protect Americans online. For crying out loud, companies are not even required to post a privacy policy for their websites. Americans are desperately in need of something like the European initiative. A “right to be forgotten” law would help Americans enormously.

Let me tell you of a man named Richard Falkenrath. He used to work at the White House as a special assistant to the President and has expertise in cybersecurity and counter-terrorism. In a piece he for the Financial Times, he spoke very honestly about the dangers of using Google’s services and the need for a right to be forgotten law for Americans. He writes,

“I learnt to appreciate the power of electronic data integration as a White House counterterrorism aide, working to enhance government electronic surveillance powers. But Google, by gaining the consent of its users in the form of a quick tick, has secured the power to build an electronic surveillance apparatus that far exceeds anything the Bush administration tried to do.”

I don’t know about you, but this a chilling statement. He continues,

“My support for [the right to be forgotten]…comes from my recent experience as a parent. Last year my children’s school shifted to a system called “Google Apps for Education”. It works brilliantly, and cost the school little or nothing. But as Google’s policy makes clear, even though the school retains ownership of the students’ content and may demand its deletion, Google intends to integrate data derived from students’ school activities with data from any of its other digital services – and use this to make money. Forever.”

Earlier, I wrote more about how some schools (kindergarten all the way up to college) are putting their students’ privacy in jeopardy by implementing Google Apps for Education into their systems. To read more on that – please click here.

Mr. Falkenrath stresses that in order for a right to be forgotten law to be truly effective it needs to also demand that metadata be permanently deleted. It isn’t enough to just get rid of email messages, photographs, or videos from Google’s servers – but, in addition, Google needs to delete the underlying information embedded into all those larger data. Metadata is basically data about data. So a photograph’s metadata may include – when the photo was taken, who it was taken by, at what location, what camera was used, what was the exposure, etc.

This metadata is just as revealing as the actual larger data it’s describing. You can deduce a lot from metadata.

“In counterterrorism, metadata often give us the crucial first lead that allows deeper scrutiny. In commerce, metadata make huge databases indexable, searchable, connectable, useful and valuable. Google’s privacy policy, like those of many internet companies, stresses the protections it affords customers’ content, but treats metadata as business records it can retain and manipulate indefinitely”

Google has the ability to create a digital identity for you that is uniquely tied to you. Your online fingerprint is all over Google and each time you use Google you give more of yourself away!

So…have you guessed how much you’re worth to Google?

Well, according to new research by privacy experts, you are potentially worth as much as $5000 per year to Google. The personal data Google gradually builds about you over time forms your identity. The more precise the identity is, the more valuable you are. Google is raking it in – to the tune of $40 billion yearly. Ka-CHING!

To help you wrap your head around everything, I’ll leave you with this excellent video (at the very bottom of this post). It’s produced by Michael Rigely, a San Francisco based graphic designer. His fascinating video shows how the personal data Internet companies collect of us is utilized to paint a perfect portrait of us. The cloud of information knows more about us than what our closest friends know. A real eye-opener:

For more information:

Financial Times, “Google must remember our right to be forgotten” – click here

CNET, “How to prevent Google from tracking you” – click here

SmartMoney, “Who would pay $5000 to use Google? (You)” – click here

Washington Post, “New privacy policy lets Google watch you — everywhere” – click here

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Make Sure To Clear Your YouTube History Too Before March 1st!

 A few days ago, I informed you on how you can better protect yourself against Google’s more intrusive tracking, which starts on March 1st. If you want to know how to clear your search history before Google’s new privacy policy kicks in this Thursday, please look at my other post about that by clicking here

Okay- so what I forget to tell you is that you have to clear your history with not only all different Google accounts you own, but, also, all accounts you have on all of Google’s services. The link I gave you above only shows you how to clear your Google search engine history. But – if you want to clear your history for your YouTube account, you have to go onto the YouTube website and find the relevant page to clear your history there too.

To clear your YouTube history, go to YouTube.com then sign into your account. Then, click on your username located in the top-right corner. Select the “Video Manager” link.

On the left-hand side of the screen you will see the following options: “Uploads”, “Playlists”, “History”, “Search History”, “Watch Later”, “Favorites”, and “Likes”.

First, click on “History”, then click on the gray button that says “Clear all viewing history”. That should clear your page and a green button should come up that confirms that you have cleared your history. But before you exit that page, make sure you click on “Pause viewing history”. This will stop Google from keeping track of your history in the future.

Next, click on “Search History” and do the exact same thing you did before in this section too.

Furthermore, if you really want to, you may also clear your saved Favorites and the Likes you made to videos. Just place a check next to the video and click on “Remove” – this will prevent Google from permanently storing your Favorites and Likes after March 1st.

You’re done! That’s how you clear your YouTube history. If you have an account on the Google owned photo sharing website, Picasa, clear your history there too.

One last thing – in my other post, which showed you how to clear your search engine history, I gave you guys this link: http://www.google.com/history

The link was not hyperlinked. You had to actually copy that link into your address bar and go to it yourself. The reason for that is because Google won’t allow people to be referred to that history page. If you got referred to that page, the link would not direct you to your history page. Instead, it would take you to Google’s homepage.

I guess Google is attempting to stop a mass of concerned people from deleting their history. For more information on this and more, please read this article – click here

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Use Anti-Tracking Tools To Boost Your Browser Security And To Ward Off Google’s Spying

 Okay, so we all know that Google tracks your every move on the millions, yes millions, of websites all over the Internet. Google has the following tools to make this happen: Google Analytics, Google AdSense, doubleclick, googleapis, googlesyndication, etc.

It is almost impossible to escape Google. Almost every site you visit has a Google tracker on it and Google knows exactly what you did on that site. They will know what you looked at, how long you looked at it, what you bought – they even know what ads you simply hovered your mouse over without actually clicking on the ad.

We all know users of Chrome, Google’s web browser, are the most vulnerable of all – but, when it was discovered that Google deliberately circumvented security settings of Apple’s and Microsoft’s web browsers this got me concerned. Both Apple and Microsoft have now been made aware that Google bypassed their security settings and are now working to protect their users from Google’s spying eyes.

All of this got me doing a little more research on these trackers Google is so dependent on to keep an eye on all of us. As you already know, the privacy settings of responsible browsers like Apple’s and Microsoft’s make it so that it blocks third-party cookies from being placed on your browser. These third-party “cookies” are often the type of cookies advertisers use to track you.

First party cookies are usually used by the sites you visit and they do make the online experience better. For example, these first-party cookies remember some of your preferences like what language you use, it keeps you logged on so you don’t have to keep logging on when you leave the site, and they help with online shopping. So not all cookies are created equal and not all are maliciously tracking you. Also, one should obviously expect that a site you visit is tracking your movement. For example, The New York Times wants to know how many times a particular article was clicked on to determine how popular it is.

So, we expect that we will have this sort of relationship with websites we agreed to visit and we’re well aware of this relationship. However, on some of these websites there are mini-sites within those websites that also track you. Many of us are not aware that third-parties impose themselves on us and track us. There are literally hundreds of companies that track Internet users – and many of them are in business solely to collect personal data to sell to others. These are the guys we want out. They are the uninvited nosey guests who are snooping on us, and we don’t even know it. One particular page on the Internet can have dozens of trackers on it.

The good news is that there are organizations that counter these tracking companies. They build add-on applications that you load to your browser; it then blocks all sorts of trackers. Also, believe it or not, those social networking buttons you see everywhere (even on my own blog) are tracking you too. Those “Like” buttons from Facebook, Google, and Twitter – to name a few – are tracking your visit. You don’t even have to have an account with them or be logged in for them to know you have visited a page where their button is on.

Anyway, it’s definitely worth spending some time researching some add-ons to use to block these trackers. It’s great to have your browser security to its maximum level, but the add-ons give you an extra layer of security. You can find add-ons for Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari browsers. One add-on I like to use is Adblock Plus, which blocks creepy personalized advertisements on the web – it even blocks ads embedded in videos. So you can watch videos on the web without annoying ads playing in front on it.

PCworld published an article yesterday on “Do Not Track Plus”, which does a great job blocking tracking. You can read it by clicking here

CNET also has an article on stopping the “tracking paparazzi”, click here

ITWorld published four great articles – these two are on tracking on the web (click here and here)

This one discusses the popular anti-tracking add-on called Ghostery. Many of you might already be aware of Ghostery or already use it. Well, you probably want to read this article then. Ghostery is owned by Evidon, formerly known as The Better Advertising Project. (Click here)

Of course there will always be those who criticize anti-tracking add-ons by claiming that they will destroy the free Internet because ads pay for the content you see. I don’t buy this argument one bit. The last article by ITWorld discusses this further (Click here)

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