Internet search engine and online powerhouse Google has come under fire in the past for consumers’ concerns about privacy. With the launch of wearable technology Google Glass, a number of new stories have surfaced about individual privacy, especially as Glass users can record you without you knowing it.
But a new wave of concern has come up about Google’s recent filings with the SEC. In forward looking statements, Google made reference to selling advertising on mobile device platforms, but wasn’t very specific about what exactly the company considers to be a “mobile” device. When pressed for details, Google spokesmen essentially listed random examples—not intending to make any statements that any of these products were in the works, of course—about a laundry list of items and appliances that impact our day-to-day lives. Like refrigerators.
Yes, refrigerators. Google officials listed typical things like smartwatches and Glass (capitalized here because that is the brand name of their futuristic wearable computer that wraps around the user’s face), but went on to suggest things like car dashboards, thermostats, and even refrigerators could someday be equipped with product advertisements.
The ads themselves, which pepper many of the pages online users see every day and are gathered and personalized based on internet activity from each user, may be a minor annoyance in the minds of most consumers. But there are actual considerations to take into account about these ads.
It’s important to understand that many of the ads that grace the side bars and headers of our favorite websites are based on collected data about us. In theory, that’s a good thing. If you were to begin researching new cars, for example, wouldn’t you want to know which of the cars you investigated was offering special financing or had been deeply discounted? Or if you’re in the market for a new dishwasher and looked up a particular brand, wouldn’t you want to know if a different brand was significantly cheaper?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always stop there. Tracking your online activity to suggest things you already show an interest in isn’t the only use of that technology. Your internet activity is being monitored for more than just consumerism, and in the wrong hands, hackers can follow that information and use it to their advantage. Researching new cars and costly home appliances can tell a hacker that you have good credit and money to spend, making you an ideal target for identity theft.
In the case of Google’s ad placement, however, what we’re really being told is that Google has long-range plans for investigating our lives even more thoroughly than they already do. Sure, an ad for salad dressing appearing on the touch screen display of our refrigerators (screens which are already a reality) may seem like a helpful benefit in your kitchen, but what information did Google gather on you in order to discover that you are in the market for salad dressing? And when does this level of investigation become an invasion of privacy?
Even greater concerns are being levied at Google and other online social giants like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, for the very fact that gathering this data can lead to storehouses of knowledge on individual citizens, data that can be subpoenaed by the government. While this type of information gathering is considered “business as usual” by online entities who rely on advertising dollars to stay in business, you can ensure some level of privacy by carefully guarding the information you share about yourself on the internet.
If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center's Anyone3 fundraising campaign. For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/anyone-3.