Canada’s Privacy Watchdog Sets Sights on Google
Canada’s privacy commissioner is taking on Google over privacy concerns how the firm collects, retains and uses personal data. Jennifer Stoddart has outlined a year-long consultation about online tracking, profiling and targeting. In her review the commissioner found that Google, Facebook and FourSquare are collecting copious amounts of data and are not being transparent enough or adequately informing users about the data collection and what it is being used for.
”It comes down to meaningful consent, which entails informed consent,” Stoddart says. “Most people have no idea about the rich trail of data they leave behind when they browse the Internet, use social networking sites, or engage the geo-location functions of their mobile devices.”
For example, even before a person has entered a term into Google’s search box, the search engine has already pared back the results it is prepared to show you based on the type of device a user is accessing the Internet from, the speed of their connection and even their geographical location.
If a user is logged into a personal Google account, which is used to access the company’s popular Gmail e-mail system and Google Docs programs, then the company also has a record of that person’s Internet history for at least the past six months, which it uses to help predict what that individual user would most like to see. Source
Google calls this feature “search results personalization” and says it is necessary because the Internet has become overloaded with information. Critics (like myself) argue that Google has too much influence over the results people see and is cherry picking the flow of information. Effectively putting people into “filter bubbles” and spoon-feeding them information.
By manipulating the search results based on past activity, it prevents users from seeing a more diverse number of opinions on any given subject. Or in other words .. profiling and censorship. Not only is our privacy under seige, but perhaps freedom of speech as well.
So what can you do to take back control your online privacy and flow of information? Well for starters you can disable personalized search. Remove information from Google’s search results. Or you can remove your web history from your Google account.