The Terrifying Ways Google Is Destroying Your Privacy
In 1999, Scott McNealy, the former head of Sun MicroSystems, reportedly declared, "You have zero privacy anyway....Get over it." He unintentionally let the proverbial cat out of the bag of the digital age.
In 2009, McNealy’s assessment was confirmed by Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt. In an interview with NBC's Mario Bartiromo, he proclaimed, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." Schmidt’s words have become Google’s new mantra. Welcome to 21st-century corporate morality.
Now, a decade-plus later, McNealy’s prophetic words have take on a far more sinister significance than he probably intended. They are increasingly becoming the operating assumption of the digital corporate state. Whether going online, using a PC, smartphone, tablet or digital TV, users can no longer assume they have any privacy. In fact, users should assume they have absolutely no privacy.
McNealy's and Schmidt's words both speak to a fundamental change in the definition of privacy. Once upon a time not so long ago, a sealed letter or a personal telephone conversation was considered private, protected communications. Those days are over.
Unless you have the time or the technical know-how to encrypt your digital communications, none of what you transmit – however personal -- through a digital wireline or wireless network is “private.” Rather, through the spectacle of post-modern capitalism, the private has become public, the property of the corporation that owns your keystrokes. The digital revolution has morphed the personal into an electronic commodity; the electronic commodity is the exchange currency of an encroaching, 21st-century digital feudalism.
Two complementary forces are driving this change: short-term corporate self-interest and a self-serving security-state. The ordinary American’s traditional privacy rights are giving way to the demands of the militarized corporate state. They are determining America’s digital economy and future.
On March 1, Google introduced a new program that collects user data from its 60 services. Google stores “cookies” (i.e., code that compiles a record of an individual’s web browsing history) on a growing number of communications devices, whether a home PC, tablet, smartphone and a growing number of TV sets. These cookies track every Web site a person visits or function s/he uses.
Every time you enter a term into Google’s search engine, check out a video on YouTube, send or receive an email through Gmail (including key words in the message) or even make a call or download information on an Android-based phone, even using a third party’s phone from AT&T or Verizon, your input will be captured, stored and processed by Google. Google users can’t opt out of its data harvesting procedure; the company reports that the new procedure does not apply to Google Wallet, the Chrome browser and Google Books.
Google has been accused of hacking both Apple’s and Microsoft’s operating systems to further its data-capture practice. Jonathan Mayer, a Stanford researcher, discovered that Google could track a person’s usage of Apple’s Safari browser on an iPhone and an iPad, undercutting privacy settings. In addition, Microsoft engineers report finding that Google could bypass the privacy settings on its Internet Explorer browser. Google denies both accusations.
Google insists its data gathering practice is done for the ostensible purpose of better serving its users. It claims that by more precisely tracking a user’s inputs it can more efficiently target-market its advertising offerings. Its sophisticated artificial intelligence software enables it to “predict” individual user’s usage patterns. This is, in all likelihood, partially true as Google is estimated to control close to half of worldwide ad placements of the web.