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How Much Do You Trust Google?

Now, I hate to be the one to break from tradition in singing Google's praises, but there are things about Google and Gmail that not enough people know.

Google...Friend or Foe?

Although I do find Google a very useful search engine and cannot argue against it being one of the best in its field, there are many "hidden features" that most users are unaware of. How many of you have actually sat down and read the entire Privacy Policy and Terms of Use pages on Google? Actually, the statistics show that only 1 in 30 visitors actually realizes that these exist, and only 1 in every 300 users decide it is worth reading. Although these pages do exist and comply with the Online Privacy Protection Act of 2004 (Although this law only currently applies to California!), they do not reveal the whole truth about Google's exploits.

Revealing the truth...

Google uses a single cookie for everything, and it expires in 2038. Your browser offers this cookie, which contains a unique ID number, every time you enter any page on Google's site. If you don't have a cookie, Google will give you one with a new unique ID number.

All of your search terms are saved by Google, along with a time stamp, your IP address, and your unique cookie ID. So far this information is not considered "personally identifiable" by Google because your IP addresses might be dynamic. (Broadband addresses are often fixed for weeks or months, but dialup addresses are very dynamic.) The unique ID in the cookie is the one thing that identifies all of your various IP addresses as coming from the same browser.

Based on this evidence we can safely assume that Google is creating a profile on every user of its search facilities. This means that every search you have ever performed through Google has been logged on their system and entered into your profile. Using this unique ID, Google can probably view your profile, telling them every search you have performed, every site you have visited through Google and even your searching habits!

If Google builds a database of keywords associated with email addresses, the potential for abuse is staggering. Google could grow a database that spits out the email addresses of those who used those keywords. How about words such as "box cutters" in the same email as "airline schedules"? Can you think of anyone who might be interested in obtaining a list of email addresses for that particular combination? Or how about "mp3" with "download"? RIAA perhaps???

Intelligence agencies would love to play with this information. Diagrams that show social networks of people who are inclined toward certain thoughts could be generated. This is one form of "data mining," which is very lucrative now for high-tech firms, such as Google, that contract with federal agencies. Email addresses tied to keywords would be perfect for this. The fact that Google offers so much storage turns Gmail into something that is uniquely dangerous and creepy.

Google and the Government

One of the big worries that I personally have with Google is that their relationship with governments around the world has not been made clear, so you can't be sure if they are passing on collected information about you to your National Government. Google uses the term "governmental request" three times on their terms-of-use page and once on their privacy page. Google's language means that all Gmail account holders have consented to allow Google to show any and all email in their Gmail accounts to any official from any government whatsoever, even when the request is informal or extralegal, at Google's sole discretion.

Conclusion

This article was not an attempt to turn you against Google, nor to attempt to stop you from using Google, but merely to inform you of Google's actions so that you may make your own decisions in future knowing what you should know.