Google tracking


Why have I never noticed before that Google is really “Go, Ogle” – meaning “Go, stare at impertinently”?

In this context, the following report by Andrew Orlowski in yesterday’s The Register makes interesting reading:

“Google’s roving Street View spycam may blur your face, but it’s got your number. The Street View service is under fire in Germany for scanning private WLAN networks, and recording users’ unique Mac (Media Access Control) addresses, as the car trundles along. Germany’s Federal Commissioner for Data Protection Peter Schaar says he’s “horrified” by the discovery. “I am appalled… I call upon Google to delete previously unlawfully collected personal data on the wireless network immediately and stop the rides for Street View,” according to German broadcaster ARD. Spooks have long desired the ability to cross reference the Mac address of a user’s connection with their real identity and virtual identity, such as their Gmail or Facebook account. Other companies have logged broadcasting WLAN networks and published the information. By contrast Google has not published the WLAN map, or Street View in Germany; Google hopes to launch the service by the end of the year. But Google’s uniquely cavalier approach to privacy, and its potential ability to cross reference the information raises additional concerns. Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently said internet users shouldn’t worry about privacy unless they have something to hide. And when there’s nowhere left to hide…?”.

I have cautioned elsewhere about the implications of Google’s approach to digital information, and the enormous power that this gives the company.  This is yet another example of the lack of transparency, and the secrecy underlying Google’s approach to accessing information about individuals. It may well not be illegal for Google to access Mac addresses – but if the above report is true it raises fundamental questions about Google’s approach to ethics.

I have for a long time refused to have a Gmail account – and try to ensure that they have as little of my data as possible.  Perhaps the time has come for us to launch a global campaign to boycott Google?  How much ogling can we all stand? The trouble is that their search engine is really quite good!

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2 Comments

Filed under Ethics

2 responses to “Google tracking

  1. Hi Tim

    Long time no see/speak. Just discovered your blog. Hope all is well.

    I have to say though I disagree with you about Google.

    Google’s success derives itself primarily through unrivalled search. Off the back of this success it has grown through its ability to stay ahead of the competition with a business model that enables the innovation of exceptional products and services that have transformed the way millions gather and share information on the web.

    They are not without criticism – of course. Their initial support to censoring the web in China is an example of this (But they eventually realised the error of their ways and pulled out). But unlike many similar successful and large companies such as Microsoft, Facebook and Apple (although I hate to admit it) their products and services are transparent, based on open standards and, I believe, for the greater good.

    Just try and find a company of that scale that offers users a way out of their line up of products and services. Don’t believe me? Then visit: http://www.dataliberation.org/ .The data liberation front are committed to documenting ways for users to move their data out of the Google ecosystem. Who are these people ?! Google! They are a team sat within the Googleplex committed to helping users leave and migrate their data.

    So it’s important to be balanced in your criticism of Google. They are far from perfect. But despite their scale and success do genuinely offer their customers a way out.

    If you have any ideas of calling for a boycott of sinister big brother type companies – I suggest you focus your efforts on Facebook. I refuse to be part of a social network that does not value privacy, identity and open standards. Worth reading: http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/04/facebook-timeline .

    All the best.

  2. unwin

    Hi Jason

    Great to hear from you – although I guess we have to beg to differ. I just don’t think that Google is as transparent as many people claim. I have also found their approach to ‘partnership’ highly problematic

    It has a great business model, persuading people to give them something free from which Google can then make large amounts of money.

    There are also fundamental concerns about privacy.

    Anyway, it would be great to meet up!
    Tim

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