Musings for a responsible society

Amidst the dark and grey shades increasingly engulfing, invading and piercing deeper and deeper, let me try to enjoy the little smiles, genuine greens, and the gentle breeze. Oh! Creator! If you don't exist, my vain!
All contents in this blog are subjected to copy right and no part of any of the articles may be reproduced in any media without prior written permission

Search This Blog


No privacy anymore? A critical look at Google’s new Privacy Policy

Sibichen K Mathew

   An ideal person need not worry about his privacy, because he is not bothered about someone else becoming privy to his personal data and interests. But all human beings are not ideal persons. And, therefore our society is also not an ideal society. People crave for data and information about others for various reasons. And there are individuals and groups who use the information for criminal activities.  In such a scenario, one needs to be guarded about his personal data and preferences.

     Internet has facilitated faster, cheaper and sophisticated modes of sharing of information and entertainment. But all these are at the cost of privacy. Commercial interests of the service providers overtake the interests of the users in due course.  As the domestic and international rules and procedures related to internet lack lucidity   and perfection, users are in a disadvantageous position to understand the negative impact.

     Google  is almost synonymous with internet for millions of people. Many are not aware that every action in the net are tracked, stored and probably shared with others. Google has notified its new Privacy Policy  which will be effective from 1st March 2012. Here is an attempt to critically examine privacy issues in the net and the new Privacy Policy of Google.

   Google is one of the most favourite internet destinations for all net users. Google offers a host of services under its umbrella such as web search, mail, photo sharing, groups etc. One can search and contribute content, and communicate each other through Google platform. As millions of people use Google services to communicate and transact, it is necessary to ensure high standards of data protection and confidentiality.

 Privacy at risk?

We need to be aware of the following:

1.   Whatever data entered by us in the net are captured and stored by the search engine along with our identity
2.    The personal information we provide while opening a mail account or any other service is shared across various Google services and affiliated commercial and non-commercial services, directly or indirectly. Google would also associate our device identifiers or phone numbers with our Google account
3.       Our search queries are recorded
4.     Telephony log information like our phone number, calling party  number, forwarding numbers, time, date and duration of calls, SMS routing information and type of calls – all are tracked and recorded.
5.       Google can collect and process information about our actual location, like GPS signals sent from cell phones and other wireless devices. Google may also use various technologies to identify the location with the help of nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers.
6.    Google may also store information in our own systems (through web storage and application data caches)
7.      Like any other search engine or websites, Google also sends cookies or anonymous identifiers to our device
8.       Pixel tags are placed within the body of an email for the purpose of tracking our online  activities
9.       The reason given by Google for collecting all above information is ‘to provide, maintain, protect and improve’ the services and ‘to protect Google and its users’
10.    Google automatically combines the personal information given by us in one service with information in any other Google service and shares them with people we know
11.   Even after we delete information, Google may not immediately delete residual copies from their  active servers and may not remove information from their backup systems.
12.  Google will share personal information with companies, organizations or individuals outside of Google
13.   If our Google account is managed for us by a domain administrator (for example, for Google Apps users) then the domain administrator and resellers who provide user support will have access to our Google account information (including our email and other data). The domain administrator can also restrict our facility to delete or edit information or privacy settings.
14.   As per the Google’s policy, ‘it can provide our personal information to all the Google’s affiliates or other trusted businesses or persons to process it’ for Google, on a request by Google.

What precautions you should take to protect yourself?

Though you can’t totally prevent using or misusing your data or information or preferences by third parties, you need to take some precautions while online
  1.   You should turn off the location identifier
  2.  Avoid logging in to the Google account if you do not want Google to share your data across all  Google services. You can log into specific Google services independently
  3.  Don’t give consent by default for combining Double Click cookie information with personally identifiable information.
  4.   Set your browser to block all cookies, including cookies associated with the Google services. You can also activate the option to notify to you when a cookie is set by Google.
  5.  Many times, when you click ‘No’ to the question ‘enable cookies?’, you may get a message that  ‘the images will not be displayed’ or  ‘files cannot be downloaded’. You need to exercise the option wisely. Google track your preferences through cookies. Is it necessary to have personalized  search experience at the cost of privacy? In any case, you should periodically delete the cookies from your system.
  6. You should opt out of advertising services unless you really need them. For that, you can edit your preferences in Ads Preference Manager in Google
  7. You should  review and control the preferences through the Google editor
  8. You should not give consent by default to Google to share personal information to third parties
  9. Use ‘incognito’ mode on the Google chrome browser for privacy

  Following address has been notified by Google to contact to know about the privacy issues and to register complaints:
       Privacy Matters, c/o Google Inc., 1600 Ambhitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, California, 94043

In following cases, selective sharing of information can be acceptable
  • a)      In the interest of  security and law enforcement
Google Privacy Policy provide for disclosure of information to meet applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable government request. (There is a specific tool in Google for Government agencies to request information for criminal investigation)
  • b)      To address issues related to fraud, or harm on Google  and its users

What will happen to our data stored by Google, if it collaborates with another company or enterprise?

Google is silent on the above. It just says that if it is involved in a merger, acquisition, or asset sale, and if our stored personal data is transferred, then Google will give notice to the affected parties. There is lack of clarity in this.

How Google will ensure non-disclosure of our data and prevent sharing of information to third parties by its own employees, contractors and agents?

Google says the access to personal information of users will be restricted to Google employees, contractors and agents and are subjected to ‘strict contractual confidentiality obligations and may be disciplined or terminated they fail to meet these obligations’. It is not known what mechanism Google has established to detect such violations (before the user becomes aware of leakage of information pertaining to him). Google also needs to disclose to the internet community, number of such violations detected in the past and action taken.

Google should demonstrate its commitment to protect privacy

One should appreciate Google’s effort to make its new Privacy Policy public. But the new policy has created more apprehensions among the internet users. Google needs to be not only accountable but also demonstrate its accountability before the online community by safeguarding the rights and interests of its users. In fact, Google should be the torchbearer of ethical practices in the internet world. This can happen only through bold initiatives that are beyond its commercial interests. Google’s attempt to monopolize the internet world is evident as it is trying hard to provide social networking services that are offered by facebook and twitter in its own platform. Whether the aim is to track the advertisement preferences of android users or to increase its revenue by placing appropriate commercials , Google should not forget one hard fact. In this highly technological era, it won’t require much time for developers to create a new platform or users to find what they want elsewhere. 

Tail Piece
I searched Google (without logging in) to check the availability of air ticket from Bangalore to Thiruvanathapuram and clicked search results (including that of Indigo Airlines and Air India), just before writing this article. I switched off the laptop, had an hour of afternoon nap, went for shopping, and had a long evening walk. After dinner, I started browsing Washington Post . Do you know, what was the advertisement that popped up on that site? “Fly from Bangalore to Thiruvanathapuram at the lowest airfares. Book Now”. Should I be happy to have an online well wisher who is very concerned about me? Or should I get irritated over the overzealous uninvited cookies that track my interests and preferences? Yes, I was not very happy for the unsolicited assistance. Because I am yet to become an ideal man and the society I live is yet to become an ideal society!

You may also like following related articles
We live in the indispensable world of computers and any crash leads to instant tantrums. One fine morning, I found my PC sick. All my home remedies did not work and the comp continued to ail for several days. The General Practitioner – a neighborhood boy............Read more..

Have we lost our freedom?: The freedom to talk and the freedom to listen; the freedom to walk and the freedom to rest; the freedom to laugh, or at least the freedom to cry in solitude?....Read More...

Your comments on online privacy are welcome!


  1. Most people don't bother to read the privacy policies... posts such as this are eye openers for such people..

    1. We need to look at the 'fine print'! Thanks for your feedback!

  2. Frankly, I don't know. I guess google puts so many resources into the hands of the people. They need to know who is using what. Always security issues and privacy issues tend to conflict. If one starts reading fine print one can't do anything. In my first job, I felt so scared reading my job contract. But afterwards I don't bother much. If I need the job I have no option. If I am sure company is a reputed one, I can be sure they will not exploit me.

    1. It is actually security interest Vs Privacy Vs Commercial interest!

  3. very informative post Sibi. many things there for us to know & understand

  4. Very exhaustive post on this subject, thanks for sharing. I wrote a less detailed post on this same subject but also dealing with how Google has emerged from its champion of free web stance to a monopolistic force on my blog, maybe some of your readers will want to visit.

  5. Thanks for sharingAs with all topics you deal with, this one too is exhaustive.
    True, the devil is always in the small print.Frankly, i don't now how to take advantage of all the useful services google offers,protecting fully the privacy issues.-sudhakara

  6. Hi Sibi,

    Thanks for the yesterday's informative and inspiring lecture on Privacy related topics at Gokhale Institute, Bangalore.

    Sathish CV


I appreciate your valuable comments. The comments may not appear immediately. It will appear in the blog shortly after posting.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...