Tag Archives: PCWorld

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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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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