I knew Google has absolutely zero regard for the customers it serves, but until now I was unaware that they were so open about the fact. Though I have been exasperated for years at the willingness of millions of people to have their online activity monitored, analysed and the resulting data sold to advertisers for a small fortune, I believe this latest news item will attract little attention.
In California, Google is currently subject to a legal challenge against its well-known practice of having its computers read every email sent and received by GMail users (to collect data for targeted advertising). The policy, which has alarmed many a Google customer and proven very popular with advertising networks, is now being adopted by many rival email providers. Soon, the idea that your personal emails are not read and details of them sold to third parties will be a complete novelty. Google seems to think that it already is, as it said in its submission to the Californian court:
“Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient’s ECS [electronic communications service] provider in the course of delivery.”
This will surprise many of us, who view the system which delivers our bank statements as being more like the Post Office. Instead, through a combination of our emails, web searches and website visists, our virtual ‘Post Office’ can work out an incredible range of facts about us. Not only does Google know the normal things such as income, gender, even political orientation, but it can predict with alarming accuracy the probability that a user will divorce over the next 12 months.
So what? I hear you ask. It might be the case that a computer knows about me, my aspirations and my private life, but it will only use the information to try to sell me things that I want, right? To which I have two answers. The first is that advertising is becoming ever more sophisticated and personalised, and this about more than showing someone a Big Mac offer when they’re hungry. What is developing is a legalised system of psychological manipulation, and one that will exert alarming levels of influence over our thoughts. If you think that regulators will intervene to impose ethical limits on the advertising industry, I suggest you look at governments’ records in defending their people against the excesses of the oil, food and banking industries.
The second is that computer hackers should never be underestimated. As a person who knows teenage computer hackers and what they are capable of doing, I find it hard to believe that an experienced hacker could not access any data files in Google’s servers that are linked to a particular email or IP address. The fact is, the more information we surrender to the likes of Google, the more vulnerable we make ourselves to third parties.
- Google Admits Gmail Users Should Not Expect Privacy, a Statement Released in Response to a Lawsuit (katenews2day.com)
- Gmail users or people who email them should NOT expect privacy, Google claims in a stunning admission (dailymail.co.uk)
- Google: Gmail users have no expectation of privacy (cbsnews.com)
- The Market Ticker – Google: Be Evil (market-ticker.org)