Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How much of your information are you willing to share? 

It’s really a question of convenience versus security.  One thing is for sure, Google is undoubtedly the most prolific and advanced search engine on the web. Their services like Gmail and YouTube are revolutionary and are used by millions around the world. Would you be willing to sacrifice a measure of your privacy in order to reap the benefits of these services? It’s your decision to make. You should know what’s at stake if you choose continue enjoying Google.,14358

In an effort to streamline and simplify its services, Google has recently announced its plans to combine the privacy policies from over 60 products into one unified and surprisingly short privacy policy. The new policy, taking effect March 1st, clearly outlines what kind of information the company collects from its users, how they obtain it, and what they use it for. Google also announced that the new policy will allow them to seamlessly share this information across their wide array of services, creating a smarter and more efficient browsing experience. Many seem to think that the search giant is being too careless with their personal information, however, and are subsequently facing strong opposition from not only users, but Congress as well.
A few members of Congress are concerned and wondering if this new policy is simply a strategy to create more finely tuned online advertisements. Last week they asked the FTC to investigate the matter, citing that this new practice may violate a settlement reached last year over Google’s (now defunct) Buzz social network. Investigations are still pending.
Google was quick to point out that it’s not changing what kind information it collects, but rather how they use that information; “With these changes, the privacy policy will be easier to read, and will help us create one beautifully simple, intuitive user experience across Google products and services. The new privacy policy makes it clear that if you’re signed in, we may combine information you’ve provided from one service with information from other services — helping us treat you as a single user across all our products.” Notice the demographical web-building theme that I've blogged about?

In their promotional video, they explained how this new system would benefit an individual in the real world. For example, say you have an appointment scheduled in Google Calendar. Based on the GPS location of your mobile phone and the current traffic conditions in your area, Google may send you a reminder, warning you that you are running late.

Although tailoring search results based on your personal interests sounds convenient, there are some that warn about the effects of such a system. Eli Pariser, author of “The Filter Bubble,” believes that there is a fundamental switch in how information flows online. He states that companies such as Google and Facebook are using your private information to only show you information that they think is relevant to you, or the info that the highest paying public interest group wants you to see. Imagine political campaigns abusing this.
“[Filter bubbles] are the gates we erect through which information about the world comes,” he said. “With Facebook, Google and personalized news services weighting search results according to our interests, we are living more within filter bubbles than ever before.”
So for example, a conservative political activist may only receive search results and news articles pertaining to their political party of choice, and nothing about the other. This, in effect, creates a filter bubble for that individual, limiting the visible information to only a single point of view.

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