Tag Archives: Laws

Consumer Reports: Internet Users Are “Very Concerned” About Privacy

Big Brother 2007 (UK)

People are really worried about their online safety and they want to know more ways to protect their personal data. Internet users do not want weak laws that don’t go far enough – they desperately are seeking tough laws to make sure that their personal data doesn’t get exploited by companies or criminals.

A new national survey released by Consumer Reports found that 71% of respondents said they were “very concerned” about companies selling or sharing their personal data without their full permission. As we all should know by now, Google’s new privacy policy took effect on March 1st of this year and this allows the company to combine data of its users across its many products and services. Google wants to create a more detailed profile of exactly who you are so that they can sell it…ah, excuse me….”share” that information about you to advertisers. Google makes over 90% of its revenues from advertising and rakes in about $40 billion/year.

According to this new Consumer Reports survey (and many others like it) Internet users are fed-up and strongly disapprove of the way Google, and companies like it, handle their personal data. The survey also found that 65% of smartphone owners are very concerned about applications (apps) having access to sensitive information about them. Many of these apps have access to your photos, your location, your address list, etc. People often do not even realize that they are so exposed when their using their smartphones with these apps loaded on.

Ioana Rusu, Regulatory Counsel for Consumers Union (the public policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports) said:

“This survey confirms that most Americans are very concerned about their online privacy. A lot of people are seriously worried about how their personal information is being exploited. Your personal data ought to be treated with respect, and you ought to have more of a say in how it’s used.”

It’s clear what people want, let’s hope there are people listening to give them what they’re asking for.

For more information:

Mashable, “Worried About Digital Privacy? You’re Not Alone [SURVEY]“ – click here

Consumerist, “Consumer Reports Survey Confirms That We’re Worried About Online Privacy” – click here

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Disappointing: Only 12% Of Google Users Are Aware Of Google’s New Privacy Policy!

 Shocker!

…actually it’s not so surprising – it’s actually depressingly to be expected.

Anyway, guess what, according to a new poll released the other day, only 12% of the British public has bothered to read through Google’s new privacy policy.

The survey and research was conducted by Big Brother Watch and YouGov. They found that despite the fact that 92% of those included in the survey use at least one of Google’s many services – almost half….yes HALF of them didn’t even know that Google is changing its privacy policy. The precise number is actually 47% of those surveyed, which is absolutely disappointing.

Google announced earlier this year that it will combine all your personal data from all of Google’s services (Gmail, YouTube, search engine, Picasa, etc.) into one detailed profile of you. This combination of data is an effort by Google to make it easier to figure you out better and destroy anonymity. A Google spokesperson said that the company wants to eliminate “the faceless web“. Google makes over 90% of its revenues from advertising. They plan on making it more efficient to sellyour information to advertisers, which is big business for the company. Google earns about $40 BILLION a year in cold hard cash by monetizing your personal data. Sweeeeeeeet! Ka -CHING!

But it’s not so sweet for the vast majority of us who are the victims of this invasion of privacy. Ever since Google announced that they were going to combine our personal data, there has been an unprecedented amount of criticism hurled at the company. It probably caught Google off-guard because this massive company is used to getting a disproportionate amount of good press, while its dirty secrets are often swept under the carpet. Their unofficial company motto was “Don’t Be Evil” – but, as the late Steve Jobs once said, that’s “bulls**t!”

In my other posts on this site, I wrote about how Google received greater scrutiny from members of the US Congress and Senate, dozens of US Attorneys General, several consumer advocacy groups, several other companies, European regulators, and so many more. All are deeply concerned about Google’s increasing desire to harvest more of our personal data and Google’s lack in fairness.

Google has attempted to swat away privacy complaints by launching an awareness campaign to alert the public of its impending alteration to its privacy policy and terms of service – but evidently it failed. This despite the company trying to give itself credit for going through “exceptional lengths” to notify the public. Even the Chairman of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said last Sunday that “nobody reads online privacy notices”. He’s right, nobody does!

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said:

“The policy was only announced six weeks ago and, as Google knows from its advertising business, six weeks isn’t a long campaign – it’s very short. Neither consumers nor the regulators have had long to get their heads around the changes. It’s bad the way it’s been decided that it’s coming in and Google hasn’t reached everyone.

“The impact of Google’s new policy cannot be understated, but the public are in the dark about what the changes actually mean. If people don’t understand what is happening to their personal information, how can they make an informed choice about using a service? Google is putting advertiser’s interests before user privacy and should not be rushing ahead before the public understand what the changes will mean.”

Google’s new privacy policy will go into effect this Thursday, March 1st, 2012. Many people are still in the dark about what Google plans on doing with their information. The average person needs to take greater care of their privacy and educate themselves about the implications of using Google’s services. You don’t want to unwittingly sell your soul to the devil. Get proactive about your security, actively advocate for comprehensive Internet privacy laws to protect you, and spread the message to family and friends.

Remember, you are not Google’s customer – you are Google’s product!

For more information:

PCPro, “Only one in ten Google users have read privacy changes” – click here

The Telegraph, “Google users ignore major privacy shakeup” – click here

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Americans Need To Take A More Prominent Role To Protect Their Browsers Against Google’s Tracking

The Obama administration’s consumer Privacy Bill of Rights initiative is a very small step to a desperately needed legislation to comprehensively protect Americans from Internet tracking. Currently Americans have hardly any protections against irresponsible websites and tracking companies. The United Sates is one of the few developed countries in the world where there are no real restrictions on the Internet. In fact, websites are not even required to have privacy policies and they are free to collect just about any private information of Americans to their heart’s content- real names, credit card information, online buying habits, what websites you visited, what you “liked”, your location, your computer information, etc.

So when the White House unveiled the online privacy proposal many were optimistic, including myself. Many are still optimistic that after the Commerce Department finishes meeting with tracking companies, Internet companies such as Google, and consumer advocacy groups that some real change will come out of all this.

But are we just kidding ourselves? Should we really expect real and comprehensive protections to come out these meetings? Do you really think Google (which makes over 90% of its revenues from advertising) and those tracking companies will really allow stringent legislation to pass? I sure do not think so.

There have been attempts to have laws passed for years and they have resulted in nothing so far. In fact, bipartisan members of the US Senate have already introduced privacy protection bills before, including Democrat John Kerry and Republican John McCain. Kerry said,

“Since the 1990s, Congress has been talking about this issue and complaining about abuses but doing little to stop them. Instead of continuing the now monthly exercise of publicly scolding companies, we need to make Congress establish common sense rules of the road that protect consumers.”

He is so correct! It’s definitely common sense to want to protect vulnerable Americans from spying and intrusive data harvesting. Yet, something so obvious is so difficult to accomplish. Why is that?

Of course, much of it has to do with Google’s intensive lobbying. I wrote more on this in a past post – click here

Just last May, Google sent a strongly worded letter to the California State Senate opposing that state’s plans to introduce a stringent Social Networking Act bill.

And now, all of sudden, Google has a change of heart when it supported President Obama’s consumer privacy bill? It’s obviously because Google knows that the bill won’t change anything significantly. It’s all a public relations ploy to pacify Americans to make it look like they will get real protections – not a chance.

Jules Polonetsky, director of the Future of Privacy Forum and former chief privacy officer of DoubleClick (the now Google owned online advertising company) said,

“I think there are a lot of companies that have been concerned by the recent litigation and constant criticism who see this as an opportunity to be at the table and help shape solutions. There have been opt-out options that have been around for 10 years. They run, roughly, at about a 1% opt-out rate. ‘Do Not Track’ isn’t going to make more people opt-out. You still have to go in and adjust the settings and most of us don’t want to bother with it. What it will do is actually make that setting work…if we try to solve all of the privacy issues for the whole industry, we’ll probably be arguing for the next 50 years.”

Google and the tracking companies know that there is mounting pressure for better security on the web and now they think that it would be best if they are allowed in the conversation to produce tough laws – this way, they will have opportunity to not only look good to the public but also have the chance to significantly water-down any privacy bill.

Remember that the proposed privacy plan unveiled by the White House is strictly voluntary. Companies can reject it if they want to, but most won’t because they don’t want to look too bad in front of the public. Once they accept to abide by the bill, they will have to stick by it or face punishment by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for deceptive practices. But the FTC, as noted by EPIC, has so far failed to punish Google for violating its consent order. The FTC doesn’t really have much weight.

Also, remember that the proposed Do Not Track feature will not block tracking. All it does is that it will signal to tracking companies that you wish to not be tracked. However, the tracking companies can still track you and see what you do – they just won’t give you personalized advertisements and make it as obvious to you. They will still have ability to track you under what they call “market research”.

The Do Not Track proposal is at minimum a way to share your preference with tracking companies and Google – but it’s also a dangerous false sense of security.

The best things you can do for yourself right now is the following:

1. Use a secure browser – one that has good default settings that protects your security and privacy. It’s good if a browser has anti-tracking functionality and if it blocks third-party cookies from being set on your browser. Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari do great jobs. According to PC Magazine, Internet Explorer 9 has the best anti-tracking tools available – click here

2. You need extra protection for your browser. Get an anti-tracking add-on downloaded to your browser that blocks tracking, full-stop. These anti-tracking add-ons will give you a list of exactly who is attempting to track you and they will block them immediately. They don’t just ask tracking companies to respect your preferences, the add-on will immediately go right in and block tracking anyway – no questions asked. I wrote about this before – click here

3. Block cookies! Make sure your browser is set to block third-party cookies. The privacy advocacy group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), has six steps to help protect you better. Step 4 illustrates how you can make sure cookies are blocked on your chosen browser – click here

4. If you use Google’s web browser (Chrome) or toolbar – immediately go and uninstall it right now. Of all the major browsers, Google does the least to protect you against tracking. In fact, Google doesn’t even have an anti-tracking functionality on its browser – the only major browser on market which fails to do so. Asking Google to protect you from tracking is like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.

 5. Finally, you have to proactively fight for your rights! That means you can’t let Google and the tracking companies dilute the important conversations that will be happening in the coming months, which could eventually lead to comprehensive privacy legislation for all Americans. If you let Google dominate the conversation and lobby their way out of real protections for Americans, you will let Google win. You need to actively participate in this struggle by writing and calling up your state representatives in government and the White House. Say that you want real protections, not just feel good stuff!

For more information, please read these articles:

Computerworld, “Obama online privacy plan faces challenges” – click here

Bloomberg, “Obama Web Privacy Framework Boosts Chances for Rules With Teeth” – click here

Time, “Why Google and Others Are On Board with Obama’s Privacy Bill of Rights” – click here

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Google Has Too Much Influence In Washington And Abroad

 The same day the White House unveiled a proposal to give consumers more rights and privacy on the Internet – it was revealed that Google hired a government insider to head its lobbying efforts in Washington. Google revealed, in a statement released Thursday, that Susan Molinari, a former New York congresswoman and a once rising star in the Republican Party, will be the vice president for public policy for North and South America. She will be replacing Alan Davidson, who stepped down in November 2011.

Ms. Molinari, a Republican, was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1990, but stepped down in 1997. She worked in television for a period and has been a lobbyist since 1999. She is married to Bill Paxton, who was also a Republican representative from New York and is currently a lobbyist at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Ms. Molinari has extensive ties to the Republican Party establishment, according to The New York Times. Over the years, she has donated a quarter of a million dollars to Republican candidates.

Just this past summer, Google hired an additional 12 lobbying firms to represent it – they did this after an investigation on breaches to user privacy was launched by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). That FTC probe eventually resulted in Google paying out millions, admitting to violating the privacy of its users, and agreeing to a 20 year consent order in which the company will regularly file assessment reports with the FTC.

Google is one of the biggest spenders among corporate lobbyists – spending $9.7 million on lobbying in 2011, nearly double the amount the company spent the previous year (an increase of 88%).

Ms. Molinari’s appointment to her new job at the company is a calculated strategy by Google to try to win over Republican support at Congress. According to the newspaper, The Hill, Google has even also been working hard to get former Republican lawmakers to join the company as lobbyists.

Google obviously wants to control how Congress votes and passes its bills by making sure to strategically place Google employees to influence outcomes. By hiring people who already know how to skillfully navigate waters at Washington and who have influence over important people there, Google can make sure it sways things in its favor.

This is especially important for Google and its advertising partners, to completely stop or significantly water-down proposed and future legislation that gives Americans more rights over their online personal data. If laws that limit Google from collecting our personal data are passed, then this is a disaster scenario for the company. You have to remember that Google makes over 90% of its revenues from advertising! Any law that prevents Google from harvesting our personal information to sell to advertisers will result in huge losses for the company. Google will fight tooth and nail to halt any legislation that gives Americans more protections online.

Google has hired other Republicans over the years as well. Google is trying to distance itself from a perception that it’s too close to the Obama administration and, in general, the Democratic Party. Former CEO and current executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, has very close ties with the Obama administration. He is a major party donor to the Obama presidential campaign. In addition, Mr. Schmidt was a member of Obama’s transition advisory board and a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. He had also been considered for several other positions, including a cabinet position within the Obama administration.

Over 80% of Google executives have donated money to support Obama and other democrats. This isn’t much different from how other Silicon Valley tech company workers spend their money. In 2008, the industry gave then-Senator Obama more than $9 million dollars to support his campaign for the presidency. This was three times what the industry raised for any other politician. It is expected that contributions for to Obama’s 2012 campaign will exceed that number and President Obama is depending on it. These Silicon Valley tech companies now spend more money to support Obama than Hollywood does. President Obama depends on Google and Google depends on President Obama.

The Daily Beast has a great article called “President Obama Courts Silicon Valley’s New Digital Aristocracy“, which discusses this further – click here

In a 2011 report, the advocacy group Consumer Watch compiled a report that details how Google benefits from close ties with the Obama administration. Consumer Watchdog received evidence to back their report through Freedom of Information Act requests – click here (PDF file)

According to the Washington Post reporter, Cecilia Kang, experts have said that lawmakers in Congress are suspicious of Google and feel that it has received too much favoritism from the White House. In response to this – Google is hoping that if it implants high-profile Republicans in Washington, it can start winning support in Congress. Already, there have been several bipartisan efforts made by several lawmakers to put more restrictions on Google and Google has already been grilled recently by a congressional committee made up of both Democrats and Republicans. If Google can divide Republicans by winning over some support of Republican representatives in Congress, the company can eventually conquer Congress. If successful, Google can destroy bills and/or render bills ineffective in helping the average Internet user by watering it down.

Google has already succeeded with this type of political manipulation in Britain. Privacy advocacy groups in Britain have recently accused Google of meddling to stop more stringent privacy laws. Google was able to convince a British government department to ask an independent regulatory authority to reverse its hard-line stance on Internet browser security. For further details on this - click here

So, how the heck was it possible for Google to convince the British government to do what it wanted?

Well, one major reason can be credited to a woman named Rachel Whetstone. If you recall, I first wrote about Ms. Whetstone a few days ago on my site when I gave you a breakdown of her ridiculous convoluted statement after the whole controversy surrounding Google deliberately circumventing privacy settings on Apple’s Safari browser – click here

Anyway, Ms. Whetstone, who is Google’s vice president of communications and policy, is married to Steve Hilton. Mr. Hilton is the Director of Strategy for the British Prime Minister David Cameron. Both Rachel Whetstone and Steve Hilton were godparents to Prime Minister Cameron’s eldest son (who sadly passed away three years ago at just 6 years of age).

Opposition parties have accused the British government with having too close ties with Google and a prominent Conservative entrepreneur has even called Google a parasite that drains revenue. There was also the infamous “review” of British IP laws, initiated by Prime Minister Cameron, and nicknamed by others as “the Google Review”. According to reporting by The Register in the UK,

“…it was introduced with a quote attributed to the Google founders by Prime Minister David Cameron. According to Cameron, the Google founders had said they could never have founded Google in the UK, because of copyright law here. There was one slight problem: the founders had never said anything of the sort, and the claim was finally traced to Google’s European public policy director Richard Sargeant – who had led the lobbying for reform of copyright in Google’s favor”

Google will do anything to wiggle its way into any government and influence any politician. If Google can influence politicians, it then can have influence on governments. Google can control the way laws are developed and it controls which laws to dump out completely. Google has enormous power and persuasion. A single company with this much international power and influence is a deeply concerning and, quite frankly, scary.

Call up your representative in Congress and tell them to not let Google control how they vote. If important, comprehensive, and stringent Internet privacy laws for Americans have any chance of succeeding in Washington –  it will be absolutely dependent on Google failing!

Susan Molinari’s tenure is slated to begin in mid-March with the official title of “Google’s vice president of public policy and government relations for the Americas.”

For more information:

The Register, “Labour targets Tories’ Google problem” – click here

The Hill, “Google hires former Rep. Susan Molinari to lead Washington office” – click here

The New York Times, “Google Gets a High-Profile Lobbyist” – click here

TPM, “Why Google Hired Former Rep. Susan Molinari” – click here

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Voluntary Internet Privacy Proposal Is A Day Late And A Dollar Short

 Yesterday, the Obama administration made a big announcement to help Internet users protect their data from third parties who collect it without your permission. The White House unveiled a consumer Privacy Bill of Rights proposal that is said to be intended to give online users back control of their personal data. Now, this might sound like great news at first, but don’t get too excited just yet. Let’s take a closer:

The Privacy Bill of Rights does not impose any immediate new obligations on online companies. President Obama said it was part of a broader plan to give Americans more control over how their personal data is used on the Internet.  It consists of seven basic protections consumers should expect from companies:

Consumers would have control over the kind of data companies collect, companies must be transparent about data usage plans and respect the context in which it is provided and disclosed. Companies would have to ensure secure and responsible handling of the data and be accountable for strong privacy measures. It also calls for reasonable limits on the personal data that online companies can try to collect and retain and the ability of consumers to access and ensure the accuracy of their own data.

The Privacy Bill of Rights has received the backing of major Internet companies, including Google. It has also received the backing of the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), which represents over 400 media, marketing, and technology companies. The vast majority of advertisements you see on the Internet are from members of the DAA. Their involvement in this seems like a great thing, so far – but let’s keep digging…

The Obama administration wants the proposed Privacy Bill of Rights to function as a blueprint for future comprehensive legislation that can hopefully make it through Congress. Several online privacy bills have been introduced before and have failed to gain much traction over many years. Americans hardly have any protections online whatsoever – and don’t get me started with the lack of protections on mobile devices, which is even worse! By the way, in comparison, European data protection laws have been developed since the 1980s and are much more stringent.

In addition to the seven core principles of the Privacy Bill of Rights, the DAA has finally agreed to allow a ‘Do Not Track’ button to be added to browsers. The browser-based header will signal, to companies that gather your personal data, your preferences. If you indicate that you don’t want to be tracked, the DAA claims that they will respect your preference – to an extent.

But hang on a second!

This do-not-track button has been resisted for years by the DAA and Google – why the sudden change of heart? Excuse me for being suspicious about this, but why the heck would a known privacy violator like Google be all too eager to participate in this initiative to protect personal data? It doesn’t make sense, folks.

Remember, Google is the same company that is facing a 20 year consent order with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for violating the privacy of users; it is the same company that had to pay $500 million to the US government after being found aiding and abetting a con artist; it is the same company that just recently deliberately bypassed privacy settings on Apple’s and Microsoft’s browsers so that they can collect information of their users; it is the same damn company that refused to have this do-not-track button on their Chrome browser for years, while all the other major browsers adopted the do-not-track technology ages ago!

Now you expect me to suddenly buy into this believe that Google wants to do what is best for our privacy – a week before it is about to change its privacy policies so that it makes it easier to sell your personal data to advertisers? Please! I ain’t buying the garbage Google is selling – not a chance!

Julia Angwin, writer for The Wall Street Journal, brought up something important:

“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, health-care 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.”

So basically, what she is saying is that this do-not-track button is BS. It won’t do anything worthwhile. First of all, it is completely voluntary for the companies to adopt the do-not-track button and if they end up letting users opt-out of tracking, it isn’t going to stop the tracking. It will only limit the amount of personalized advertisements you see. For many these companies, whose sole business purpose it is to harvest your personal data and sell it, they will still see everything you do.

It was recently reported that the American retailing company Target was targeting pregnant women with creepy advertisements of things a pregnant woman might need. The only problem was that these pregnant women never informed Target about their pregnancy and were creeped out that Target not only knew they were expecting a child, but could actually freakishly guess the due date. When Target noticed that people were starting to get creeped out they decided to still send targeted advertisements, but made sure to not make it so obvious. A Target executive revealed to the New York Times:

“With the pregnancy products, though, we learned that some women react badly…then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We’d put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We’d put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance”

Target was able to do this because they matched customers with an ID number linked to their credit cards or other personal information. You can read more on this by clicking here.

Anyway, the point is that Google and those data analytics companies that say they will respect your information think you’re stupid. They think you won’t know better if they give you a useless button to pacify you, while they continue on doing what they have always been doing. And, unlike Target, the Internet is A LOT more invasive! The Internet is the Wild West, where there are basically no laws to protect you and it’s much easier to obtain personal information. At least Target only collects data on buying habits of customers from their own store – Google collects personal data of you everywhere on the Internet.

Mozilla Firefox, was the first browser to allow users to use a do-not-track button. Internet Explorer followed Firefox’s example soon after, and then Apple’s Safari joined. All major browsers had this functionality enabled, with the exception of Google’s Chrome browser. Mozilla executives released a statement yesterday saying that they were “encouraged” by the news of a Privacy Bill of Rights and felt proud to say that they were first to implement a do-not-track button. However, they made sure to say that while they feel optimistic about the move to increased privacy for users, they will avoid fully endorsing the proposed do-not-track button that the DAA says it will produce in about nine months:

“We want to continue to see Do Not Track evolve through the Internet’s rich tradition of open development and collaborative innovation. Do Not Track is too important to become a product of closed-door meetings rather than through open, multi-stakeholder efforts…If Do Not Track fails to materialize as a productive tool, we’ll look to develop other technical measures to ensure that users’ privacy preferences are respected”

This button will not result in anything good for users and Mozilla already pretty much knows it. This proposed do-not-track button might actually create more harm than good. If people assume that they are protected from tracking, when in actuality they are not, they will let their guard down. People will stop asking for more protections for their privacy online and on mobile devices – while, Google and the DAA will give each other a high-fives for pacifying the public. Phew! No more annoying privacy advocates giving them a hard time!

But not so fast, Google! We’re on to you!

We don’t need a watered-down, meet me halfway, a day too late and a dollar too short privacy bill of rights! We need real change! We need comprehensive and solid protections! We need to completely stop tracking, period; full-stop!

Here is something to think about: even though Mozilla Firefox was the first to implement a Do Not Track button for their users, only 18% of mobile users and only 7% of desktop users activated the functionality on Firefox. It was available for Firefox users for awhile now, and only a small percentage took advantage of it. And guess what – Google and the DAA are well aware of this fact. An opt-in button will not reach the masses, and a useless button will not go far enough to protect users.

When the White House made its announcement yesterday, the true winners were not vulnerable Internet users – the winners are Google and the DAA who were so giddy and self-congratulatory.

For more information, I highly recommend these articles:

  • The Wall Street Journal, “Web Firms to Adopt ‘No Track’ Button” – click here
  • The Washington Post, “Voluntary guidelines for Web privacy backed by Obama administration” – click here
  • Techcrunch, “Mozilla: Welcome Google and Obama, We Invented ‘Do Not Track’ A Year Ago” – click here
  • PCWorld, “Obama’s Internet Bill Of Rights Will Be Hard to Enforce: Here’s Why” – click here
  • PCWorld, “Universal ‘Do Not Track’ Button: A Recipe for Disappointment” – click here
  • Wired, “White House Privacy Bill of Rights Brought to You by Years of Online Debacles  – click here

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Are You Sure You’re Fully Protected Against Google’s Tracking?

 Are you protected on the Internet? What can you do to better protect yourself? What browsers do the best job in protecting your personal data? What is the government doing to proactively introduce laws to protect you?

With so many social networking websites out there and since more of us are spending more of our time on mobile devices than ever before, we need to make sure that we are fully protected from people who want to harvest our personal data.

Google’s social networking site, Google Plus, and its mobile device software, Android, use applications developed by outside companies. When you choose to load these applications (apps) to your profile on Google Plus or to your Smartphone it will allow these apps to gain access to your personal information. These apps can gain access to your phone address book, to your photos, pinpoint your location, retrieve your friends’ contact information, etc. There is a treasure trove of personal data that these apps companies get a hold of – and goodness knows what the heck they do with it all. It’s bad enough that Google is monetizing our personal data without our explicit consent – but it can go further than that.

“Last year, a study by Stanford University graduate student found that profile information on an online dating site, including ethnicity, income and drug use frequency, was somehow being transmitted to a third-party data firm. The data that third-parties collect is used mainly by advertisers, but there are concerns that these profiles could be used by insurance companies or banks to help them make decisions about who to do business with.”

Many people don’t realize what they can get themselves into when they agree to let these companies access their personal data – and Google couldn’t care less about making sure to protect you. Google leaves advertisers to self-regulate themselves and it is often the case that these apps do not even need to ask for permission to access your information. As long as Google can cash its check, it’s happy. You, on the other hand, are left to fend for yourself.

This is why it is critical you arm yourself with knowledge and then take the necessary steps to protect yourself – do not depend on Google to do it for you. Google does not see you as its customer, you are Google’s product! Yes, YOU are Google’s product. Your personal information is gold to Google.

“Personal information is the basic currency of an Internet economy built around marketing and advertising. Hundreds of companies collect personal information about Web users, slice it up, combine it with other information, and then resell it.”

Google’s browser, Chrome, is the only browser that does not block tracking. Google wants your personal data exposed to spying eyes because Google makes over 90% of its revenues from advertising!

If you use Google’s browser, you are the most vulnerable of all. However, we have already seen this past weekend how Google deliberately exposed Apple’s and Microsoft’s users to tracking too by circumventing the browser security of Safari and Internet Explorer. Both Apple and Microsoft have now taken further steps to protect its users from Google.

If you want some information on tracking cookies and how to protect yourself, CNET has an article on this: click here

So, what is the government doing to protect people from these companies?

“United States has no overarching restrictions. Websites are free to collect personal information including real names and addresses, credit card numbers, Internet addresses, the type of software installed, and even what other websites people have visited. Sites can keep the information indefinitely and share most of what they get with just about anyone. Websites are not required to have privacy policies.”

Americans are the most vulnerable, which is why Americans need to take online privacy more seriously. Contact your representative in Congress and ask them to introduce comprehensive laws to protect your personal data. I have discussed on this site before about several bipartisan members of Congress and the Senate who are especially concerned about Google and want to introduce tougher legislation to protect your privacy.

The Europeans have it much better, though. European regulators have stringent laws to protect its people and they are in the process of establishing a “right to be forgotten“. This right will give users the power to demand companies like Google to delete all their personal information when requested. This is so important.

Of course, Google has been devoting a lot of time and resources in lobbying against this “right to be forgotten”. Google spends millions on lobbying now than it ever did before. In 2011, Google spent $9.7 million on lobbying – nearly double the amount it spent the previous year.

For more information on all this, Reuters published an article yesterday: click here

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 26 other followers