Google has always had the spotlight when it comes to search since it revolutionized the way users access the web. It’s grown to a point where in the last year they consolidated all of the privacy clauses into one, giant blanket one that affected all of their online properties.
An example of moving forward with search, I’ve mentioned a handful of times in the blog, is the DuckDuckGo search engine. Recently the small search company produced a video where they talked about how Google has each use caught in what they called a search bubble. Where they took more than 100 users, ensured they were not signed into their Google accounts and had them conduct searches on specific terms and captured their results.
What they found, was that even when the users were not signed into their accounts, and even in the same geographical area, they received differing results pages. It’s not a revelatory video really, as Google isn’t the only company on the web that utilizes browser cookies to determine who a user is and what they may like. Not to discredit what DuckDuckGo is hinting at, but with such a small sampling, and by allowing users to use their personal computers without clearing any session cookies, it’s no wonder the results were different for each user. Perhaps with the addition of a control group, a group of 20 users or so who were using completely clean installs of a browser and OS would help balance their results.
It should be no surprise to anyone out there that Google has their share of privacy concerns. People worry about their search history, their emails being read, even with some who use the browser the worry extends to their entire online activity profile. Everybody has always assumed that Google knew what you were doing and kept track of everything, and they never really helped their case by saying either way. But now, you can have an insight into just how much Google does know about you.
Earlier today, Google announced a new service they call Account Activity which does exactly as it’s name suggests. For users who opt in to the service, once a month Google will send you a report about the information it has collected on you for that month, while signed into your Google account. Being ever curious, I opted in for the report and a few hours later I received all of the data that has been grabbed of my activity. And bearing in mind that I also use an Android device, the amount of data that could be collected of my usage is quite large. Yet when I went through the report, I found the information was vague at best, at least in terms of what they keep. It kept track of the top 3 people I email, how many emails I had coming and going (note: not the content of which), and the devices and platforms I’ve used while signed in. Way down at the bottom of the report is Web History, and since I’d opted out of allowing them to collect any data, it was completely blank.
Since Google unified their privacy policies across their products, it seemed like there was a sudden surge of concern about what data Google does collect about their users. Personally, it was never a concern, becuase while true privacy online doesn’t exist, as a user you do still have an incredible amount of contol about what information you share with the world, and with the services out there. Where the disconnect between the reality and the paranoia occur, is where people stop reading about their services, and just run amok with what’s trending. Whether it be on Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media network. Every service on the internet, not just Google, every single one is only viable because of the users who share information with them. Even if it’s something as simple as a username, without even that fragment of information they couldn’t exist. When you next read about some internet company stealing your information or selling it to third parties, instead of jumping on the band wagon have a look at your settings if you’re a part of the network. It’s the user who has the control at the end of the day, if you don’t want to be a part of a service, leave it.