“Big Brother is Watching You!” Such was the cautionary phrase the citizens in George Orwell’s “1984” were regularly reminded of. According to a recent article in Mother Jones, today it is Google that is watching you:
Over the years, Google has collected a staggering amount of data, and the company cheerfully admits that in nine years of operation, it has never knowingly erased a single search query. It’s the biggest data pack rat west of the nsa, and for good reason: 99 percent of its revenue comes from selling ads that are specifically targeted to a user’s interests. “Google’s entire value proposition is to figure out what people want,” says Eric Goldman, a professor at Silicon Valley’s Santa Clara School of Law and director of the High Tech Law Institute. “But to read our minds, they need to know a lot about us.”
The article eerily continued:
Every search engine gathers information about its users—primarily by sending us “cookies,” or text files that track our online movements. Most cookies expire within a few months or years. Google’s, though, don’t expire until 2038. Until then, when you use the company’s search engine or visit any of myriad affiliated sites, it will record what you search for and when, which links you click on, which ads you access. Google’s cookies can’t identify you by name, but they log your computer’s IP address; by way of metaphor, Google doesn’t have your driver’s license number, but it knows the license plate number of the car you are driving. And search queries are windows into our souls, as 658,000 aol users learned when their search profiles were mistakenly posted on the Internet: Would user 1997374 have searched for information on better erections or cunnilingus if he’d known that aol was recording every keystroke? Would user 22155378 have keyed in “marijuana detox” over and over knowing someone could play it all back for the world to see? If you’ve ever been seized by a morbid curiosity after a night of hard drinking, a search engine knows—and chances are it’s Google, which owns roughly half of the entire search market and processes more than 3 billion queries a month.
Scary thoughts indeed. But it gets worse:
If you are a Gmail user, Google stashes copies of every email you send and receive. If you use any of its other products—Google Maps, Froogle, Google Book Search, Google Earth, Google Scholar, Talk, Images, Video, and News—it will keep track of which directions you seek, which products you shop for, which phrases you research in a book, which satellite photos and news stories you view, and on and on. Served up à la carte, this is probably no big deal. Many websites stow snippets of your data. The problem is that there’s nothing to prevent Google from combining all of this information to create detailed dossiers on its customers, something the company admits is possible in principle. Soon Google may even be able to keep track of users in the real world: Its latest move is into free wifi, which will require it to know your whereabouts (i.e., which router you are closest to).
Are Americans hooked on Google modern day Oceanians? After all, with its purchase of YouTube, Big Brother…er, I mean Google, now knows what videos you’re watching, too.