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 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
- You should turn off the location identifier
- 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
- Don’t give consent by default for combining Double Click cookie information with personally identifiable information.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- You should review and control the preferences through the Google editor
- You should not give consent by default to Google to share personal information to third parties
- 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
- 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
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!
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