Trust the Census; worry about Google

Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    Trust the Census; worry about Google

    Census Day – April 1 – got me thinking about the data the Census Bureau compiles about me.  Google’s partnership with the bureau got me thinking about who has the most data and who poses the biggest risk to privacy.

    Frankly, I trust the Feds, at least when it comes to counting citizens.  But, Google raises enough concerns about what it does with my information that I’ve decided to rethink what I turnover to the Internet giant.  You can follow me on this blog as I take steps to regain control of my personal data.

    Consider:  The Census form this year is just 10 questions including age, date of birth, sex, race, housing, name and telephone number. The information is protected:  “By law, the Census Bureau cannot share respondents’ answers with anyone — not the IRS, not the FBI, not the CIA, and not with any other government agency. The penalty for unlawful disclosure is a fine of up to $250,000 or imprisonment of up to 5 years, or both.”

    All census workers take a sworn lifetime oath of non-disclosure:  “I will not disclose any information contained in the schedules, lists, or statements obtained for or prepared by the Census Bureau to any person or persons either during or after employment.”

    After 72 years, the Census Bureau transfers census records to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA is responsible for making the historic records publicly available for viewing or purchase.

    Name, address, age, sex, race, phone, rent or own. That’s all the Census asks, and it’s confidential for 72 years.  Google’s partnership doesn’t give the search giant access to this federally collected information of course. But if you’ve opted in to a variety of Google services, its servers hold a lot more data about you than the Census Bureau — information you’ve given up by opting in.

    Take a look at “My Account” and your “Dashboard.”

    Google has my name, my IP address, my e-mail address and alternate addresses, e-mail addresses of everyone I’ve contacted, the text of my messages and chats, any calendar, tasks or maps I’ve saved, my profile, my bookmarks, my alerts, my Google Reader subscriptions, my Google Groups, my Google Books library, my Google Docs and via Google Checkout, my address, phone number, and history of purchases.

    Google also has my Web History with the searches I’ve done and web pages I’ve visited, at work and at play.  There is no sworn oath of non-disclosure because I’ve opted in for convenience and a “personalized experience.”

    So, like I said, April Fool’s Day and Census Day are making me stop and think.  I am re-evaluating my own privacy policy, that is, what I share with whom, especially Google. You can follow me here as I take steps towards regaining control of my personal information.

    In the meantime, it’s Census Day 2010.  Don’t be afraid.  Just mail in the form.  And Google? That’s another story.

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