No longer content to vacuum up, scan, index and sell analytics based on the content of our texts, emails, searches, locations and more, Google now has a new target: tapping, mapping and colonizing the networks wiring our lives.
“Google argues that it has the right to collect your most sensitive data, as long as it flows across an open WiFi network,” PrivacySOS.org said last month after Google announced a $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest, which sells WiFi-controlled home heating appliances. “Now do you want to let this company inside your home?”
“Uhm… I hate to break this to the ACLU—given they’re supposed to be on the cutting edge of the privacy debate—but the thing is, Google’s already in our homes,” commented PandoDaily’s Yasha Levine. “It has been in our homes for a long, long time. And not just in our homes, but at work, in our cars and even when we’re walking down the street.”
“As many have pointed out the privacy concerns of this development are huge,” wrote two other PandoDaily writers, Carmel Deamicus and Michael Carney. “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.”
Google is poised to cross another personal boundary. It is not just that our questions and queries are being aggressively collected, parsed, sold and resold, but that the networks tying together our digitized lives—via our devices, their settings and passwords—are also being eyed by the global data-hungry Goliath.
“The acquisition will help Google close the circle of search, people and goods in a broad Internet of Everything,” wrote Wall Street Journal editor Michael Hickins. “As Aaron Levie, CEO of Box Inc. tweeted, ‘With home automation, self-driving cars, robots, mobile, and life sciences, Google is setting itself up to own the 21st century.’”
Anyone who cares about maintaining some degree of privacy should pay attention. Google has been doing a lot more than its lobbyists and executives have disclosed when defending or promoting its initiatives. Here are four examples that undescrore Google’s corporate ethos that any data it can grab is Google’s for the taking.
1. Street View: not just street mapping. After being sued by 38 states, Google admitted last March that its weird-looking cars outfitted with roof cameras facing four directions were not just taking pictures; they were collecting data from computers inside homes and structures, including “passwords, e-mails and other personal information from unsuspecting computer users,” the New York Times reported.
2. Gmail: prying and spying. This October, a federal judge refused to dismiss a potential class-action lawsuit brought by Gmail users who objected to its practice of analyzing the content of all the messages on its network and selling byproducts to advertisers. Those suing Google said it violated federal wiretap laws.
This issue isn’t new to Google. In congressional testimony in 2009, Google’s lawyers said its email technology was used for scanning for spam, computer viruses and serving ads “within the Gmail user’s experience.” But last fall, U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh held that Google never told Gmail users that Google would create personal profiles and target users with ads. Nor did people who are not Gmail users, but who were writing to Gmail addresses, agree to let Google collect and parse their messages.
3. Google Safari: not just hunting WiFi. Google’s court record includes more than just grabbing and snatching data. In early 2012, the Wall Street Journal broke the story that its software was bypassing security settings for Apple devices using the Safari browser. “Google hated this [Safari’s anti-tracking features] and used a secret code to bypass this security setting,” the blog GoogleExposed wrote. “This exposed millions of Safari users to tracking for months without them even knowing about it.” In August 2012, the Federal Trade Commission fined Google $22.5 million, its largest civil fine, noting that Google also had violated previous privacy agreements.