Thursday, January 26, 2012


One of the reasons data aggregation is both big business and hard to grasp is that is it composed of many, many tiny bits of our lives, very few of which are particularly meaningful in isolation. An IP address in and of itself is not much. That IP address mixed in with your cell phone number, your YouTube viewing history, and a bunch of locally stored tracking cookies can speak volumes about you.

I took some time today to read through the new Privacy Policy that Google will enforce starting March 1, 2012, and what struck me most was the range of information they now state they will collect and integrate about you if they are able to get their hands on it. From the top:
  • "Information you give us"
    • Name
    • Email
    • Telephone number
    • Credit card number
    • Photo
  • Device-specific information
    • Hardware model
    • Operating system
    • Unique Device Identifiers
    • Mobile network information including phone number
    • "Google may associate your device identifiers or phone number with your Google Account"
  • Server Log Information
    • "details of how you used our service"
    • "Telephony log information like you phone number, calling-party number, forwarding numbers, time and date of calls, duration of calls, SMS routing information and types of calls."
    • IP address
    • Device event information such as crashes, system activity, hardware settings, browser type, browser language, the date and time of your request and referral URL
    • Cookies that may uniquely identify your browser or your Google account
  • Location Information
    • GPS signals
    • various technologies to determine location
  • Unique Application Numbers (specific to your install of a Google product/service)
  • Local Storage
    • We may collect and store information (including personal information) locally on your device using mechanisms such as browser web storage (including HTML 5) and application data caches. 
  • Cookies and anonymous identifiers
They may use this to use your name across all Google services. "In addition, we may replace past names associated with your Google Account so that you are represented consistently across all our services" - so no guarantee that things you deliberately put under another name will remain that way.

Taking this minutiae and recombining it is the stuff of marketeers' wet dreams. All the stuff your phone company can get about your phone combined with all of your on-line search, click and purchasing activities, wrapped up with the bow of electronic "finger-prints" for every device you bring into contact with Google.


This information is for sale. It has value and it will be packaged and sold. How will it be packaged? You don't know. Maybe it's Google using it directly. Maybe it's a third party who bought some stuff from Google, some stuff from Facebook, a bit more from Amazon and stirred in a splash of Yahoo for good measure. And they are far from the only corporation gathering, slicing, dicing and distributing information about you.

Of course, here I am, logged in with a Gmail address to a Blogger blog bitching about Google. They've made me an offer I'm not inclined to refuse, namely a platform from which to shout my opinions of whatever the hell is bugging me today in exchange for gathering as much of the above information as they can. It's "free", after all. And it's more time and cost effective than trying to build my own blogging software and maintaining my own server. I have search prominence. My voice is heard.

Is this bargain (Faustian or otherwise, though I don't think it quite rises to that level of moral compromise) a reasonable one? If at some level I didn't accept it as such, I wouldn't be writing this, would I? I like to think I have prevented release of most of my information. I won't contact Google from a phone, I don't fill out a profile, I don't use the services except Gmail and Blogger and I don't use this browser for anything but blogging, so not a lot of cookie info to be had. I won't let Chrome anywhere near a computer I own.

The deep problem is not, in truth, Google or even data aggregation. The fundamental issue is that I have no right to privacy, no right to manage my own identity and say what information a service provider may use and under what conditions. I can refuse to participate in the Google ecosystem. I can delete some information or decline to provide data points to certain services. Once they have the information, however, the only real limit on what can be done with it is the degree to which the will follow their own deeply mendacious and politically vacuous motto of "Don't be evil." I'm on my own.

The real question is to what degree will I surrender the minutiae of my life to gain access to this quasi-public space? 


1 comment:

Anne said...

Thanks for this post. It seems utter transparency is only for the little people. It's bad enough they have all this personal info and will sell it openly on the market, but it extra pisses me off when periodically according to news reports, thousands of people's information is on some one's personal lab top which they leave by an open window at home, and then oops gets "stolen". As of March, they won't have to go that route . All I know is the words "free upgrade" is the modern mess of pottage for your birthright

when I just signed in I got :

We’re getting rid of over 60 different privacy policies across Google and replacing them with one that’s a lot shorter and easier to read. Our new policy covers multiple products and features, reflecting our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google.

God help us

Also :
Tailored for you. If you’re signed into Google, we can do things like suggest search queries — or tailor your search results — based on the interests you’ve expressed in Google+, Gmail, and YouTube. We’ll better understand which version of Pink or Jaguar you’re searching for and get you those results faster.

You know I really hate how increasingly, regardless of what I say, the Web takes me where it wants me to go. I must click many more times to finally get where I want to go....all while they are telling me I can save time thier way . Of course in reality everything takes much longer. I'm suppose to be delivered to their advertizers , not go rogue and surf on my own!