Computer Ethics: Google and Privacy

Seeking to blunt a sharp backlash to recent privacy policy changes, Google has offered to share “the real story” about a system that compiles information about users based on their activity on all of Google’s sites and products.Google announced new privacy settings. They spell out the fact that the company collects and compiles data about its users based on their activity on its various sites — from its search page to Gmail to YouTube to phones running its Android operating system.

The announcement gave some privacy advocates cause for alarm, even though Google says the information is assembled to enhance user experience, such as better targeting ads that will be of interest to its customers.

Perhaps most notably, eight members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, wrote a letter to Google CEO Larry Page asking for clarification about the changes.  “While Google suggests that the purpose of this shift in policy is to make the consumer experience simpler, we want to make sure it does not make protecting consumer privacy more complicated,” reads the letter. The lawmakers also noted that because of Google’s global reach, the change “potentially touches billions of people worldwide.”

It asks Google to share what kind of data it currently collects and explain how information collected under the newly announced system will be used.

In a post on the company’s public policy blog, Google’s Betsy Masiello wrote that there have been misconceptions about the changes.  “A lot has been said about our new privacy policy,” she wrote. “Some have praised us for making our privacy policy easier to understand. Others have asked questions, including members of Congress, and that’s understandable too.”

Among the points that Masiello makes in the post:

  • Users don’t have to be logged in to use many of Google’s products, including search and YouTube. No data is collected when a user is not logged in.
  • When logged in, users can edit or turn off their search histories, switch Gmail chat to “off the record,” use “incognito mode” on the Google Chrome browser or employ other of Google’s privacy tools.
  • Quite simply, Web users don’t have to use all of Google’s products.

She noted that Google won’t be collecting any more data about users than it was before.  “We’re making things simpler and we’re trying to be upfront about it. Period,” she wrote.

Not everyone was convinced.

While noting that there are some advantages to having your information stored in one place, Brent Rose wrote for tech site Gizmodo that there are some scary aspects to it as well.

“There are certainly reasons to be concerned about keeping all of your eggs in one basket. It means there’s a single point of failure, which makes me nervous,” Rose wrote. “The fact that you can’t opt-out of shared search data, and that Google will know more about you than your wife? That’s a little creepy.”

Is Google’s information collection policy ethical?

**** Updated footnote. While upgrading my Chrome browser on my Galaxy III phone, I took note of everything Google wants to know about me, and everywhere it wants to access…


excerpts from CNN, “Google seeks to clarify new privacy policy”, 27 January 2012  [1]

About Jack Myers

Married for over 20 years and proud father of a daughter and two sons in college. Extended family includes 5 bro/sis in-laws, 21 nieces/ nephews (and their children), 2 dogs, a cat and a snake. Currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Computer Science at Rowan University and serving as an instructor for Camden County College and elsewhere. Formerly led Pfizer’s BT Engagement Partner team and other technology teams at Wyeth, SmithKline Beckman and Centocor including Project Management, Portfolio Management, Identity Management, IT Security, Global Architecture and application development teams focusing on Information Management, Clinical Data Management, Regulatory Submissions and Processes, and Patient Safety.


Computer Ethics: Google and Privacy — 35 Comments

  1. I have always loved Google and never had a problem with it. I do think that so many people out there care too much about the information Google collects. I see it as Google upholding information for the government which I don’t have a problem with and neither should anyone else unless they are doing or searching up something that is concerning.
    Google has transformed into an amazing search engine and has done a lot of great things to make their website easier for the public. And I highly doubt anyone who works for Google really gives a hoot what that guy is searching or doing on their website. And if Google knows anything else about him that his wife doesn’t, then THAT is concerning (for the wife).

  2. I also really like google. But I don’t understand why people hack on the computers and decided to look up peoples information. Google is Google and Bing is Bing.

    • Hackers tend to hack for multiple reasons. The most common might be to try and get your credit card information or other personal data so that they can either a) spend your money! or b) steal your identity. A more legal (but ethical?) use of personal information is to target you with advertisements that are relevant to you. Is that a good or a bad thing?

      • I believe it’s both because hackers want to be like you and maybe share more information to their friends who are also hackers. For example the movie Identify Theif. The main character had to chase down the theif and get his identity back. Some people do not get it back.

  3. It does not bother me that Google monitors our searches because I believe that is how they make their money, through people advertising their products. Otherwise, Google might make us pay for their search engine. Personally, Google has helped me with everything from schoolwork, to directions, and to questions about my health. I don’t mind that my searches are not private, as long as they don’t misuse them against me.

  4. If Google makes money monitoring my searches that’s ok with me, but I feel as though everyone’s privacy should be protected, or maybe if you have something that you don’t want monitored you shouldn’t use google.

  5. i like the fact that you are able to go off the radar, like being able to turn off search history and go into incognito mode. it gives people the opportunity to have control over their own privacy.

  6. Plain and simple Google is a beautiful thing! People use Google as their search engine everyday, including myself. I see no problem with Google monitoring peoples searches, especially since we as Google users have the option to turn off search history and use incognito mode

  7. I personally don’t have any issues with Google’s privacy changes. It is understandable for Google to decide to change their privacy policy. I think that Google does a lot to make accessing information easier and to me, it is not a problem that what I search is not private. They supply all of us with a lot of information and as long as what we each search is not misused in any way, you will not hear any complaints from me.

  8. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter whether or not Google can see what we search on their website. If you don’t have anything to hide then you shouldn’t really be bothered that Google can know what we look up. However, if you are concerned about Google seeing what you search for on a daily basis then just don’t sign into your Gmail or Google account and they won’t be able to “collect any data”.

  9. It doesn’t bother me that the privacy settings are changing. I see it as something that can benefit others. ive always used google for everything and never had a problem with it.

  10. Google’s information collection policy is not ethical. As if ADs weren’t annoying enough, but now Google thinks they know what I want to see. It’s an invasion of privacy to make any list of what I look up, there’s no reason for them to have that information because they shouldn’t be predicting what I want to see either way.

  11. This changing privacy setting and the need or want to get more information from us users worries me a bit. With google having so much private and intimate info into our lives ie. where we eat, what we buy etc if someone does get our info somehow they will have an idea of the things we like to buy. For instance, instead of the hackers blindly using our credit card information and the bank sending alerts because something is out of the norm; the hackers will have an idea of what to buy as they have gotten that info from Google. I see this as making it easier for hackers to successfully steal and use our identitites, that is of course if they can get past Google’s security system.

  12. Christine Moore-Hayes, is thinking why is it, when brilliant minds in the need of enhancing technology, “Google search” wants to make the privacy protection security better for users but in all reality it becomes more complicated. Since when is one’s privacy up for discussion to be shared globally.

  13. Google is just like any other site you use. The privacy setting doesn’t keep everything private. People can still view your information. Doesn’t keep anyone from finding out something you don’t want them to know. Always have to be careful for what you put on the internet at all times. you never know who is looking at your information.

  14. When websites like this decide to make new privacy acts/laws concerns me a bit. The question, “what is private any more?”
    I feel there are always ways to get around some of these security walls.
    My opinion of technology is a negative one; Nothing is private any more.

  15. Privacy is a very crucial & sensitive subject. It’s understandable that some people may be a bit skeptical when hearing that certain activities are being monitored. However, it makes more sense to learn more about what Google is doing rather than make an issue of it. I have never had a problem with Google before. I also appreciate the fact that there are ways to turn on/off the privacy settings if you feel uncomfortable, or just don’t log in.

  16. In my own opinion, I truly believe Google has not done anything unethical with the privacy policies. The reasoning behind all the information being collected is for society’s own benefit. Google collect’s as much data as possible to enhance our Google experiences. Therefore I do not see any reason to be concerned that the company is being unethical or doing any harm whatsoever.

  17. I believe Google’s collection policy is ethical. Google never hides the fact that they are accessing your information and always asks first. In no way does Google’s actions impede on its users’ right to privacy because all users have the option to turn any of these settings off. It is up to the user to be mindful and read terms and conditions before agreeing.

  18. I have no problem with google changing their privacy information and what they use it for. I am one the few who really doesn’t care if google stores what I search and what websites I visit and they allow you to disable some privacy items.

  19. As a user of a lot of google products I feel they should not be allowed to look at what we post, view, and write. I feel that it is an invasion of privacy. Also if they must follow what we are doing they should have to give a clear explanation of what and why they are following us. What google is doing in my opinion is also a violation of our freedom being United States citizen.

  20. I believe that what Google is doing is unethical. I think most people would agree that they would rather have there privacy than advertising specifically targeting them. It’s an invasion of privacy and Google should change their policy immediately.

  21. with a little more indept research,i believe the new policy for google has nothing to do with being unethical….This new policy does not actual go indepth into personal information like adresses,ssn”s etc, it just helps channel the right advertisement to the right people. I believe that if it gave an option button/switch to allow users to decide what they wanted, it will separate what users want to keep private. This would actually boosts its acceptance and increae marketing at the same time

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