On february 29th Google must have lost a lot of data. Over all social media there were people reminding us that this was the day when we should delete our Google history. On march 1st Google would start combining its data collection (and collected data) from all its services; search, Gmail, Maps, YouTube et cetera. What many of us, including myself, did as a result of these messages, we took a look at the data Google already of us for the first time*.
Don’t be evil
Somewhere in the back of my head I always knew that Google somehow stored my search history. Just as I also knew that Google’s software scanned my Gmail e-mails to ‘serve’ me with personalized ads . But I never thought twice about it from a privacy point of view. It’s the “I have nothing to hide” principle that is so often misused in discussions about the subject. But when I saw all these queries, going back several years listed below each other it felt quite uneasy. Political blogs I visited, medical information I browsed for, places I went on holiday. If I were a person of any public importance and someone with bad intentions would get his hands on this information, it wouldn’t be difficult to get some pretty damaging rumours out into the world. I still believe that Google is still living up to its informal company motto “Don’t be evil“. But why would Google want to keep this information on me?
Everything I do, I do it for you
This way they would be able to serve us, its users, better. Better search results, better YouTube suggestions, more interesting ads. And they probably figured it might be handy for users themselves as well. Everything you ever searched for, safely stored on Google’s servers. Should you ever forget what you searched for on april 14th 2007; Google knows.
We’re NOT the customers
It’s important to understand that we, the consumers, are not Google’s customers and we should not expect to be served as such. We are Google’s product. Google is selling us, consumers, to the companies that pay Google money. Which is perfectly normal thing for a company to do; they need to make a living after all. So unless we are paying them per search query, they need to find alternative ways to make a profit somehow.
This was pretty mild wake-up call for me. Like I wrote earlier: I truly believe that Google’s employees are not evil. Google as an organisation might not be evil either. But that’s now. Who knows what will happen in ten years time? Perhaps Google might hit rough times and they may need to do anything they can to keep on making a profit. Profits that are needed to keep everybody employed. They have mortgages to pay, little children to feed, bills from the doctor. In such a situation, even if they should decide to sell a little more of their user’s personal data than we’d consider ‘ethical’ right now, they might still not be considered ‘evil’. It would be a wise decision to stop collecting the data right now. But for a multi-billion dollar company, such wise decisions go against their DNA. So, as users, we’d best help Google remain ‘un-evil’ and let them store as little of our personal data as we can; delete your webhistoy.
* You can look up your own search history by logging into your Google and then going to google.com/history