Google Adds New Privacy Tools – Implications for Genealogy
Google added new privacy tools this week in an attempt to stay ahead of privacy concerns. Users who have signed up for Gmail, Blogger, Picasa and YouTube will now be able to see a “dashboard” that shows what privacy information Google has collected about them. Users will then have the ability to edit and delete the privacy information.
Online advertisers are demanding more information about the surfing habits of users in an attempt to better target advertisements to the interests of the users. However, to make this approach effective, large internet companies have to collect a significant amount of personal information in order to tag attributes about the user (such as age, gender, income level, geographic location, etc.) to the user’s internet surfing habits. Privacy advocates say this is a major privacy concern, especially for large companies such as Google and Facebook. Chances are you have probably experienced targeted advertising without even realizing it.
For example, if you are reading this article then you are probably interested in genealogy. Have you ever noticed when you read an online newspaper that ads often appear from a well-known genealogy company selling access to their subscription database? Given that the percentage of the general population that is interested in genealogy is in the low single digits, what is the probability that you should often see ads for genealogy products? This is not a coincidence. Your home internet address has been tagged by advertising companies as being interested in genealogy.
Not convinced? Try reading the same newspaper online at a public library or a friend’s house or anywhere where there is no one interested in genealogy. Chances are, you will see a different set of advertisements. Take any hobby or interest that you spend time looking at on the internet and these are the kinds of advertisements that are likely to be delivered to you on internet sites such as online newspapers.
Many people find the process of targeted advertising somewhat disconcerting when they realize that their internet surfing habits are being tracked. Some people consider this a potential invasion of their privacy. This is the basis for the privacy arguments surrounding Google. As Google offers more services, Google’s potential to map out the interests and habits of their users increases. A similar argument can be applied to social network sites such as Facebook, where users give up much personal information in the course of their interactions with friends (although in Facebook’s case the most egregious privacy concerns have come from third-party applications, such as the popular genealogy application We’re Related).
Unfortunately, the new privacy tools from Google do not cover the granddaddy of Google applications – their search engine. Every time you use Google’s search engine (or anyone else’s search engine for that matter), your search queries are logged. European Privacy Commissioners want Google to keep the data for six months. Google wants to keep it for nine months.