What does the next generation think of today’s issues? The TBS Next Gen program publishes Australian students, mentored by TBS writers. With online privacy a concern atop many a citizen’s list, Billie Cooper sheds a little light on the dark side of Google.
Student: Billie Cooper
Mentor: Grant Spencer
Topic: Is Google spying on us?
You know Google, right? Well, firstly, it is normally known as the best search engine. It is so popular and favourited that it has even has a spot in the dictionary as a verb (“let’s Google it”). If we want information on anything, what might we do? I bet you that most people would Google it or ask Siri – even Siri is connected to Google. I use Google Docs (like I am right now), Google classroom, and they have created many more apps that you will read about later. No wonder it’s so popular! How many times a day do you find yourself utilising Google services? Little do most people know that it just happens to also take first place as one of the world’s most invasive organisations.
How much does Google actually know about everyone?
It’s not very often that we find ourselves thinking this, because to most people Google is just the best search engine ever, no big deal. But if you go shopping online and you take interest in something, ads pop up everywhere and feed you information on your phone or computer about the thing you have shown interest in. Google takes advantage of information about us from the ads we click on, the websites we visit, our texts, locations, pictures of you, your friends and even what your house looks like from maps! Google has created many apps and sites such as Classroom, Documents, Chrome, Earth, Slides, Play, Gmail, Drive, Sheets, Photos, Forms, Calendar and Translate, possibly for the purpose of popularity and more ways to gain knowledge on our lives. The successful company has created all of these connected apps so people use Google as their system to work, to make it easier for Google to have more access to users’ lives.
There was recently a report released focused on Chromium (the source basis for Google Chrome) that any device with history of Google related tracking, now has fully downloaded a software created by Google, able to take over the microphone and evolved to insert the correct codes to eavesdrop on private conversations, even when the device is not in use. It will always be recording to sense conversations.
Without consent, Google downloaded a code that – according to itself – had turned on the microphone and was listening to your room, meaning that your computer had been sending whatever was being said in your room to somebody else, to a private company in another country, without your permission – or, until now, your knowledge.
Illegal data collection
For several years there was a feature installed in the vehicles of Google Street View which was collecting user data over their personal WiFi hubs. “WiSpy” surprised investigators found that the company had collected a load of people’s private information illegally, from sexual preference to medical history and even spousal infidelity.
The FCC found the company guilty. They concluded: “Google’s failure to cooperate with the Bureau was in many or all cases deliberate.” This is a nice way of saying that the corporation lied. What was their punishment? Naturally, it was a slap on the wrist.
Ruling your accounts
Google searches through your Gmail contacts to find memberships and social networking sites with which it is competing. It collects data from multiple aspects of your life, your browsing experiences and your preferences. When it finds one, it suggests that you merge it to your Google account so the company can discover that data for its own gain.
Some people have recently found that the “use my Google contact information to suggest accounts from other sites” feature in Gmail is turned on by default. Using this, they comb through your contacts and mail to find evidence of what you’re doing around the web. This data is used so that Google might better compete with players in the social networking game, particularly Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Without consent, Google had turned on the microphone and was sending whatever was being said in your room to somebody else, to a private company in another country, without your permission – or, until now, your knowledge.
Another common fact about our daily life that barely anybody pays much attention to, or even realises, is that popular trusted car brands unlock your phones using Bluetooth and comb through your devices’ data and memory, using systems such as contacts, pictures, maps and calendar. I have experienced times when my dad has bought a new car and it uses Bluetooth to answer and make calls, which he was completely aware of. What he didn’t know until he was exploring the features was that, it was interrogating his data and using his contacts and possibly even messages and calendar to download into the car.
Although knowing that most of our lives are being spied on, most people (including myself) still use Google in everyday life. I don’t particularly think this is reasonable, especially since these users have just realised that they are being watched like a hawk and still don’t even care! But I have also discovered that other companies such as Apple and various trusted businesses are also getting used to the receiving end of the information regarding, basically, our whole life. So I don’t really mind. Because when you think about it, taking Google out of your life won’t make the cut, to making it as private as you want it to be!
This article is part of a series for The Big Smoke Next Gen.
The Big Smoke Next Gen is a program which matches professional and experienced writers, academics and journalists with students who wish to write non-fiction articles and voice their opinions on what is shaping the nation.
For more information about our program at The Big Smoke, or to become a mentor, please contact us.