Google Tracking: Selling our information and monitoring our wi-fi

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Google's ability to track your interests and obtain information about your wi-fi is leading many to question how safe their privacy is. (Photo Credit: Eric Wong)

Daniel Classon, Staff Writer

While Google has delved into hundreds of start-up technologies such as Google Glass, artificial intelligence, disease detection, and remote-controlled cars, its fundamental platform has always been data collection. In order to supplement its well-known search engine and revenue-earning advertisement service, Google tracks users’ actions in the browser from open to close. With the advent of the technology boom, Google is collecting personal data on a massive scale causing many to question where to draw the line with privacy.

Business education teacher Shannon Fermanich believes some Americans unknowingly allow Google to see their personal information.

“Most people do not fully read the user privacy policies; we select the “I agree” box without actually reading the policies,” Fermanich noted. “Even when read, the policies are difficult to interpret for most people. Google has made our lives so much easier so perhaps the benefits outweigh the consequences.”

Google can track your username and password when logging into forms, along with your location, time and date. Browser cookies leave an Internet trail that enables companies such as Google to track your likes, dislikes, and frequent navigation when on a Google sponsored webpage. Additionally, Google’s DoubleClick and AdSense advertisements leave browser cookies embedded in the advertisements themselves; because of this, virtually any non-Google site with an advertisement extends the scope of Google’s data collection.

Junior Chiranth Kishore sees the power of data collection as positive and a negative.

“It affects our social lives subtly. By tracking our location and past searches, Google can provide information that is relevant to users,” Kishore said. “On the other hand, this can also be seen as a breach in privacy, as in ‘Big Brother is Watching.’”

The cookie-rejecting Chrome Incognito browser and advertisement-blocking software AdBlock are incorrectly perceived as opt-outs for advertisement tracking. Everything Google related must be deleted—Gmail accounts, Google maps, Google search—a highly imprudent task for today’s internet user. And that’s only on desktops; cell phones running Google’s Android OS are legally installed with a back door, allowing access to your home wi-fi password and more.

Google’s property is ubiquitous, and their omniscience shows in the numbers. Gmail alone stores a couple exabytes of data—the size of 125 million eight-gigabyte thumb drives. All of the data—our searches, our ages, our locations—are then sold to advertising firms. In 2013, Google made over $10.8 billion from advertising.

Fermanich doesn’t see the point in personalized advertisements.

“There are times when I look at an advertisement because it interests me and I may learn about a new product,” Fermanich said. “However, I seldom look at the advertisements because I’m online for specific purposes and my time is limited. Usually when I’m forced to watch a commercial, it doesn’t interest me and I don’t buy the product or service.”

While Google’s operations are huge, they’re getting larger. Last January, Google acquired the maker of wi-fi-controlled thermostats and smoke alarms, Nest.

PandoDaily writers Carmel Deamicus and Michael Carney discussed the acquisition in an interview with Salon.

“Nest products track detailed information about their users’ movements, in addition to things like a user’s WiFi IP address, and whether the specific address is a home or a business,” Deamicus and Carney said.

Kishore doesn’t see the acquisition of Nest as an attempt to intrude on privacy.

“Google is a strong, reputable company whose goal is not to infiltrate our homes but rather improve their systems,” Kishore said. “While unsettling, Nest is just another technological avenue geared towards making smarter homes”