Let me just start this post by admitting that I am about as technologically savvy as a paranoid hippy who hangs out in the mountains and doesn’t believe in cell phones. In my world, cookies are something that come out of the oven and IP is something that stands for “intellectual property.” Neither of these things is relevant to computers, at least not for me. I am in utter awe of programmers. They’re like wireless wizards. I’m lucky that I figured out how to operate this blog without crashing WordPress. I was a dinosaur using AOL for years – my first email address was on AOL – but I finally made the switch to Gmail about two years ago.
At the time, I was pretty pleased, given the fact that change is abhorrent to me. I found Gmail’s layout intuitive and easy-to-use, which is imperative for someone like me who needs it spelled out, preferably in large print. I know a fair few computer geeks, and they’ll spend hours trying to argue in favor of Windows, but at the end of the day, the main reason I am an Apple user is because it’s intuitive, it’s attractive, and dammit, I don’t have constant driver problems the way I did when I had a Dell running Windows XP. I couldn’t fix my own computer. My engineer roommate had to do it for me. (She loved every disgusting minute of computer repair.) I felt the same way about Gmail – it was the Mac of the email world, at least in my eyes.
Google is in the midst of streamlining its accounts, which means that Gmail, YouTube, Google+, and approximately 60 other services will be sharing users’ personal data. Everything except Google Chrome, Google Wallets, and Google Books will be linked together. The big problem will all of this is that there is no opt-out. All Google users will be forced to comply with this new procedure.
As I understand it, the way this will work is that if you Google something, for example “St. Louis Blues hockey scores,” you may be greeted later by hockey videos on YouTube. Many think it will also allow Google to target advertising, which is true, but more importantly, it is going to link your personal data and information to things that you may not necessarily want public. Let’s face it: one of the great things about the Internet is that you can peruse with relative anonymity, but with the new Google system, those days seem to be disappearing.
Besides that, it would put vast amounts of personal data at the literal fingertips of hackers. Of course, lots of websites already do this, but Google is such a large system that it would be disastrous if their security were to be compromised. It doesn’t make sense to just hand over scads of information to cyber-criminals, and to those who say that it could never happen, I say, “Wake up.” There is always a determined hacker who can figure out how to beat the system that is currently in place.
What is truly frightening to me is that Google will effectively be using emails to help them figure out the who, what, where, when, why, and how of users’ personal lives. Google can install permanent cookies on people’s computers which allows the company to keep track of what users are doing, including where they are. Google can mine information from mobile devices the instant that users access their accounts or enter search terms, according to The Washignton Post. This is all supposedly to streamline the online experience for Google users, but it sounds more 1984 than anything else to me.
Do we really want perfect strangers to have access to all of our private information, including health, financial situation, political beliefs and concerns, and where we live and shop? Moreover, what happens if Google decides that they aren’t going to be scrupulous with this delicate information? Call me paranoid, but it seems like this could potentially be a problematic situation if they decide to sell information to, say, insurance companies, credit institutions, or the government? What if the government, under the usual guise of protecting us from terrorists, ourselves, and terrorists, decides to use this technology to “listen in” on our conversations? No thanks.
While I can understand that Google is facing stiff competition in the fickle and ever-changing Web world, this move towards streamlining doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a winning proposition, in the long run. The potential consequences of making so many details of one’s life public are troublesome, at best, scary as heck at worst.
One the upside, I will say that I’m glad that Google is giving its current users fair warning about this policy change. Logging into current accounts, it’s quite hard to miss the banners asking you to view the new policy. I do applaud their efforts to keep their users abreast of changes, because there are some companies that would not have given users the same courtesy. That said, I will be deleting my Gmail account for good as soon as I find a service that I find more palatable. I’m trying out Zoho for the time being, and although it isn’t as pretty or as easy to use as Google, it asks for zero personal information for its basic, free account, and that means a lot to this Lady, who places a high value on her privacy. If I like the results with the blog email account, I will switch over my personal accounts, too. Rest assured, however, that I will not be sticking around so that Google can inundate me with ads and mine my personal data all for the sake of making my life more convenient. I’m willing to accept slightly less convenience if it means that my personal data is safe.
Check out the article below, if you are interested in the news story.
“Google Announces Privacy Changes Across Products; Users Can’t Opt Out” – The Washington Post