Google Has Long Had Ability To Track You Across Its Services

Tue, Jan 24, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Google’s controversial new privacy policy covers familiar territory for Peter Eckersley, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s respected Technology Projects Director.

    He says the search giant’s disclosure that it will track what you do across all Google-owned services that you partake of — on your PC and mobile devices — comes across more like a confession than a bold new move.

    “It has always been the case that Google kept effectively linkable records of our uses of Gmail, Search, Maps and Market for Android, and other services,” says Eckersley. “Only very sophisticated users have ever been able to remove any of that linkability, and that remains the

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    case today.

    “In a couple of cases, Google had some internal practices of not linking your browsing history, and YouTube history, to other data — and those internal walls at the company are now gone.”

    One of Eckersley’s friends was under the impression that because he did not use Gmail, at least Google was ignorant of his e-mail communications. But then the friend realized that many of his acquaintances were using Gmail. So Google possessed copies of all messages to and from his friends who use Gmail.

    Backlash begins

    Speaking of friends, Facebook’s announcement that it will make use of Timeline and Open Graph mandatory over the next few weeks is already raising hackles. These new services chronologically assemble and automatically display ultra rich user profiles; they are designed, the company says, to make your preferences and online activities accessible in a “frictionless” manner to acquaintances and advertisers. But that means cyberscammers will get easy access to these richer profiles too.

    “What these unilateral decisions by Google and Facebook demonstrate is a complete disregard for their users’ interests and concerns,” says John Simpson, spokesman for Consumer Watchdog. “It’s an uncommonly arrogant approach not usually seen in business, where these companies believe they can do whatever they want with our data, whenever and however they want to do it.”

    Simpson calls the race by Google and Facebook to exhaustively index the online lives of everyone, the better to sell premium rate advertising, “a terrible business model for the long run. It will only undercut people’s trust in both companies and ultimately the entire Internet. I think the backlash has already started.”

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