Friday, May 15, 2009

How Much Does Google Know About YOU?

An amazing thing about the information age is... well, the amount of information there is. Internet content is growing faster than weeds, than rabbits, than even bandwidth. There are more than 200,000 new domains a day, more domains than words in the largest dictionaries.

But the part that is especially amazing is how much information there is behind the scenes. I mean, the info we don't see.

As a marketing guy, I can call up web stats that tell me not only how many visitors we've had, but where they came from, how long they stayed, which pages they visited. It's useful because it enables us to benchmark improvements to our site. Being in eCommerce, we like seeing these numbers go up, and the only way to tell whether you're gaining or losing is by measuring.

Now when you extrapolate these capabilities of technology, and realize there are lots of people gathering lots of information about lots of other people, one can easily begin to develop a bit of paranoia. Who knows what about me and how much do they know?

There's a good article in this week's Computerworld that begins like this: "Google may know more about you than your mother does. Got a problem with that?"

According to the article by Robert L. Mitchell, Google stores everything. Thus it knows what you search for, it knows what videos you watch, it knows your browser activity if you use the Chrome browser, knows where you have been watching and maybe travelling using Google Maps. If you use Picasa web albums it has all your pictures (all mine from this blog get assembled on Picasa automatically) and it may even have transcripts of telephone calls, though I fail to understand how since my own attempts with voice recognition software were dicey at best.

Mitchell does soften the fear factor a bit. "Technically, of course, Google doesn't know anything about you. But it stores tremendous amounts of data about you and your activities on its servers, from the content you create to the searches you perform, the Web sites you visit and the ads you click.

What Google Knows About You is a good read. The article may be unsettling, but it's helpful to know you what you're getting into when you don't read all those privacy policies you agree to when you sign up for various services. Mitchell also offers a half dozen suggestions to help you protect your privacy a bit.

But then, if you can't help yourself, you might start beginning to wonder... how much does Yahoo know about me? Or, and this is where things start to get scary, the Department of Homeland Security. Hmmm. I don't think I even want to go there.


Pedro H. Albuquerque said...

On the topic, this PBS documentary about the NSA is pretty good:

ENNYMAN said...

Hey, thanks. Yes, very interesting link and program.