Is Google evil?

Posted on 2017-12-13
In this article we're going to take a hard look at the question about Google's "evilness" and the general condition of the Internet.

In recent times many people are migrating away from Google's search engine and Google services and with good reason, the Google privacy policy has become really bad.

We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about. Our company's policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it. (Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman 2010).

And if we take a look at some of the information that Google collects it's pretty grim:

  • Details of how you used our service, such as your search queries.
  • Telephony log information like your phone number, calling-party number, forwarding numbers, time and date of calls, duration of calls, SMS routing information and types of calls.
  • Internet protocol 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.
  • We may collect and process information about your actual location. We use various technologies to determine location, including IP address, GPS, and other sensors that may, for example, provide Google with information on nearby devices, Wi-Fi access points and cell towers.
  • Unique application number. This number and information about your installation (for example, the operating system type and application version number) may be sent to Google when you install or uninstall that service or when that service periodically contacts our servers.
  • 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.
  • We and our partners use various technologies to collect and store information when you visit a Google service, and this may include using cookies or similar technologies to identify your browser or device. We also use these technologies to collect and store information when you interact with services we offer to our partners, such as advertising services or Google features that may appear on other sites.
  • Our Google Analytics product helps businesses and site owners analyze the traffic to their websites and apps. When used in conjunction with our advertising services, such as those using the DoubleClick cookie, Google Analytics information is linked, by the Google Analytics customer or by Google, using Google technology, with information about visits to multiple sites.

And Google makes no excuses, they collect all this data in order to make money and share this information with so called "trusted third parties".

  • We provide personal information to our affiliates or other trusted businesses or persons to process it for us, based on our instructions and in compliance with our Privacy Policy and any other appropriate confidentiality and security measures.
  • We will share personal information with companies, organizations or individuals outside of Google if we have a good-faith belief that access, use, preservation or disclosure of the information is reasonably necessary.

But the question is, does all this make Google "evil"?

The answer is no.

Google does not hide what they are doing, in fact they are pretty insisting on you reading and accepting their privacy policy before you use any of their services.

However, all of this is still a major problem and the problem lies with the Internet and how it's structured, not with Google.

First of all, why do we accept that the main access to information on the Internet is controlled by big corporate search engines like Google and Bing? Why have governments and independent organisations around the world not created independent search engines for the public to use? Is it because governments are just as interested in spying on users as big corporations are?

Imagine that our public libraries around the world suddenly became controlled by big corporations who would control what books you can read and when you can read them. Well, this is how most of the Internet is run today, and it's getting much worse.

When you search on Google, the results are not independent or free, rather the results are controlled and limited. Limited by location, time, IP address, browser fingerprint and other stuff and this is not good. No corporation should have the power to control what information we - the people - have access to on the Internet.

Google is a company, not a government or an independent organisation. Google makes most of its money using people's data for targeted advertising. People get to use Google's products for free and in return the company gets access to the user's personal information to better place ads. And this is how Google makes most of its money and Google very clearly describes the way they do business in their privacy policy, and if you don't like the way they do business, then don't use Google's services.

But is it really that simple?

No, it's not that simple because nobody has provided people with independent privacy respecting search engines or other ways to access the content on the Internet. Sure, a few alternative search engines exist like Duckduckgo or Gigablast, but even though these search engines are really good, they still cannot quite measure up to the quality of Google's search results, at least not yet, and they are not really independent.

More than that, Google have managed to get millions of webmasters around the world to add their Analytics (spying) software on most websites. And even thought much better alternatives exist, such as the Open Source Piwik software, many webmasters have completely failed to comprehend the consequences of their actions.

When you visit a website that's running Google Analytics you get tracked and nobody bothered to ask you whether you accept that or not. So while you have to accept Googles privacy policy if you use any of their services, like the Google search engine or YouTube, nobody cares about what's going on at regular websites. But this still does not make Google evil, it just makes webmasters evil (and in some cases really stupid).

In reality, when you visit a website, the website owners should tell you what's going to happen on their website, before it happens, and you - the Internet user - should get a respected choice.

For example, "Warning: We're using Google Analytics on our website and we will track every movement you make on our website. Do you accept that? If not then please leave."

Why is this important? It's important because most people don't know anything about tracking software and they are unaware of the effects and results.

If you have been tracked long enough, and the tracking software has figured out that you are a person who likes to buy books, the prices on books might change when you visit websites that sell books, i.e. the prices become higher.

That's right! On sophisticated websites prices change dependant upon who's watching the product! And this is based upon tracking data.

If you ever visits Facebook a cookie gets installed on your computer and from this point on, each time you visit a third party website that has a Facebook "Like" button, or other Facebook trackers, the tracker will work in conjunction with the cookie to send information to Facebook about the date, time, web address of the page you visited, information about your computer such as operating system, browser, IP address, screen resolution, and other data. And other social networking services do the same.

If you visit the New York Times website, in the milliseconds between your ariving on the webpage and before the latest news appear on your screen, data from this visit is send to several different companies, including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and several smaller ad firms. Almost instantaneously, these companies log your visit, place ads that are specifically tailored for you, and add information about your visit to the ever growing online profile about you.

You can install the uBlock Add-On, it will show you when you get tracked and by who and with what, and it will give you the ability to block both ads and tracking. You have to go into "Settings" and enable all "Ads" settings and "Privacy" settings.

Furthermore, in combination with uBlock, you can also enhance your privacy by using a trusted VPN service like Private Internet Access and by running an Add-Ons like Random UA in order to change your browser fingerprint on each request.

But these solutions are not ideal, they require technical knowledge and skill. Besides, the tracking techniques becomes more and more sophisticated and difficult to protect against all the time.

What we need is independent and privacy respecting search engines and tools for accessing the Internet that aren't controlled by any corporation or spying government agency and we need good browsers that respect privacy by opting out of tracking by default.

Freedom and privacy respecting governments around the world needs to step up and provide really independent alternatives to the public corporate search engines and they better understand that they themselves need this too.

The control and power of companies like Google and Microsoft is devastating to governments around the world because they have the power and the right to control whatever data they provide via their search engines. If Google chooses to remove important news from their search results, they can do so. If Google wants to affect the outcome of a specific situation they have the power to do so by manipulating search results and we have already seen Facebook do more than that.

So what went wrong with the Internet? It all started out as an independent way to share information, and later products, but it has almost turned into a massive blob of service clusters controlled by only a few major corporations.

And this is bad, very bad, and we need to change that ASAP if we really value free information sharing.

If you have any comments or corrections feel free to email them to me.