Going Evil

By Revathy Sampath-Kumar • Staff Writer

Watch what you put in your search bar, because “Googling” a popular Jersey Shore episode could result in ads for tanning salons clogging your Web pages and emails. This is because Google has recently announced that starting March 1, it will be aggregating information from users across 60 of its web services including Gmail, Google+ and YouTube in order to “better serve its users.” This shift, which will literally track anything you watch or search, is expected to enhance user experience. Although the changes may seem positive, the new policy is causing major controversy due to its invasion of user privacy. 

This recent decision appears to be contradictory to Google’s “don’t be evil” founding philosophy. “Don’t be evil” has been Google’s informal motto since its founding in 2004, and is a central idea of its 10-part business philosophy. In writing, Google’s founders described the statement as, “We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served…by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains.” With this noble proposal, Google was able to gain the trust of users — but now it seems that the company is using private information for profit.

In the grand scheme of things, Google’s actions are nothing new in the world of online mega sites. The popular social networking site Facebook has been tailoring ads to suit individual users for years. Since its founding in 2004, Facebook set itself apart from other sites like Myspace by collecting user information to bring a personalized advertisement experience to its users. Facebook has made its advertising methods transparent and even has a user friendly Q&A section detailing the use of information such as current city, sex, age, relationship status, jobs, school, interests, pages, groups and posts to tailor ads. That’s a long list, but Facebook is only using the information users provide — not watching every click of the mouse. 

What sets Google apart is that the data recorded spreads across a range of popular websites, and the information chronicled is a lot more detailed. It is as personal as the movies you’ve been watching, the emails you send, or the things you’ve been searching for on the Internet. This comes as a shocker users, and has sparked a war of words between Google and its long-time competitor, Microsoft. Microsoft released a “Gmail Man” ad mocking Google’s privacy changes, in which a mailman walks around reading people’s mail. Last week, Microsoft also put ads in major newspapers that slammed Google, and urged users to jump over to Hotmail and Bing. Microsoft has managed to harp on Google’s controversy, but only to face critques from viewers who find the whole feud catty.

More credibly, groups in the UK and members of the U.S. Senate have also expressed their disapproval. Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) stated that Google officials were not “very forthcoming necessarily in what this really means for the safety of our families.” The Article 29 Working Party, an independent European group that deals with issues of personal data protection, similarly expressed concerns about Google’s policy changes and the effect it would have on the protection of personal data across 29 European countries.

Google’s new policies coincidentally came out the same week of the Supreme Court case United States v. Jones, which serves as precedent for the site’s infringement of privacy. The court ruled that it is unconstitutional for the FBI to keep GPS tabs on criminals without a warrant since this is in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Ironically, in the “Information Sharing” section of Google’s new policy, it is stated that user information will be shared with third parties in an instance of certain governmental requests. This is clearly unconstitutional, as users do not present their private information to Google with the assumption that they are waiving their rights. 

In the days that remain before March 1, users who feel violated by this new policy should sign out of their Google accounts before using Google, or permanently change their settings to limit their personal information. This is the only way for users to protect their privacy aside from refraining from using Google sites altogether. It may be disturbing that websites are tapping into user’s data to make money, but frankly people will be “Googling” things regardless of where their information is going. 

Readers can contact Revathy Sampath-Kumar at [email protected]


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