Monday, March 5, 2012

The struggle to keep online privacy

As social networks and smartphones advance, it seems that privacy recedes into an ever shrinking pocket of the online experience. While ten years ago it was hard to find out someone's email address and with that perhaps his username at a certain forum, today a dedicated stalker can get all kinds of information about someone with very little effort.

Google is in the headlines because as of past thursday their new privacy policies kicked in, which in a nut shell claim to be aimed at offering a better experience to the user by suggesting relevant ads and interesting videos, for example, based in their searches, visited websites, etc. While one could see the advantage of this, many question what would happen if this sort of information fell in the wrong hands. Others ask why is there no way to opt-out of this tracking, which is active whenever someone's logged into any of the many services Google offers, including Gmail, YouTube and Google+. The reality is that this sort of data has always been collected and used to show advertisements (how else would a company who spends millions in infrastructure and offers mostly free services to the public make money?), and the only change is that instead of having around 60 privacy policies for each of their services, they have a unified one to better understand their target audiences and market their ads better. If you're concerned about what's being gathered, click on this link and find out, by accessing the Google dashboard.

Tracking data from an iPhone
Apple is also on the radar since there seem to be some apps that can access users' photos with the excuse of looking at "location information" in these files. With smartphones not only storing important information about contacts but also about GPS generated locations, this could be a little more dangerous than simple advertising. A deceivingly harmless looking application could be transmitting user location data to someone or something, and that's worrying. Of course the only thing Apple can do is ask app developers to add a privacy policy of sorts so users have to agree to it before using the software, but that doesn't quite work since almost nobody takes the time to read them.

Whatever these two giants will do to counter the accusations, only one thing is clear: as our lives get more and more digital, our privacy disappears slowly but steadily.


  1. I'm a big fan of privacy myself, and if I knew that an app was doing that, I think I would decide to not use it. One problem though is that google is becoming more of a staple in our lives, some people are using them because they don't see much of a choice.

  2. May be Google should take a good look at it's tagline (Don't be evil) and follow it to the T

  3. I'm not at all a fan of anyone keeping records of everything I look up online.

  4. Great, so we're being followed on our every move?