Thursday, 23 July 2009

My Google...My Privacy

I'm a big Google fan. In fact I'm a google addict. I had to force myself to remove my Firefox's Gmail notifier. Gone are those days where I used AskJeeve to research for journals and etc for my debates. Google search engine completely changed the game for search engines. For a computer science undergrad, Google is a dream come true. Whenever you are given those crazy programming assignments and you need examples or Java tutorial, Google is your friend.

The Google-mania took over to the extent that we now use the word "google" as a noun and verb. Even the Google “people” begged us not to use it as a verb but it cannot be helped. Google search engine completely "run-down" AskJeeve, Yahoo and etc with technology such as PageRank. Searching the web has never been the same again since the arrival of in 1997. They make our searching experience breathtaking. They continue to expand and improve. Now we have Orkut for social networking, Google Document, Youtube (yes, they own Youtube. They bought it.), iGoogle, Google ads, Gmail, etc. They immersed Google into our lifestyle.

Sometime around 2004/2005, two of my classmates sent me Google mail invitations. Then, Gmail was launched as an invitation-only and it offered 1GB storage capacity which put HOTMAIL to shame. We (the nerds in my class) were all excited. We dumped hotmail like a piece of rag and all went Gmail-crazy. We rejoice because we no longer need to delete mails in order to retrieve new mails. Hotmail had force us to delete important mails or save them in remote places such as Microsoft Outlook. Microsoft Outlook is not ubiquitous at all. This means you practically have to carry your laptops around in order to retrieve an old mail.

Anyway, Gmail became the future of electronic mailing system but Google won't stop there. They brought us personalised Google known as iGoogle. If you never tried iGoogle ( before, please do so. iGoogle enables you to personalise your Google account. Yes, you must own a Google account for you to be able to make full use of iGoogle. With iGoogle you can have weather forecast, Gchat, Gmail mail notification, jokes of the day, news RSS, the Google search engine etc, all on one page.

Alas, there is a bad side to using iGoogle. Whenever you log onto iGoogle with your Google account, Google stores every search query you used via their engine. In order for Google to show a more personalised search results, they must know what you like hence they store what you search for. This is the way every personalised recommendation systems work. In order to give better search results and high performance, the system must know an awful lot about you and your surfing pattern. Now, doesn't that scare you? Doesn't that make you wonder what else they use such information for? Don't you want to know who they share such information with?

Welcome to the web 2.0 and its privacy issues. I've stopped using my iGoogle for years now. Google has too much control over my internet-lifestyle. I use their mailing system, their video portal, their blogging portal and etc. There has to be some limits to the amount of information they have about me. I refused to merge my Google mailing account with my Youtube account but hey, that doesn't mean I'm not being watched. Youtube also provides personalisation hence it knows what I love to watch, what my favourite clips are and etc.

To push the envelope, Google introduces Chrome OS which is not your ordinary yet-another-web-app. I won't go into too much details about Chrome OS, for more details read about it here ( One main point I want to pull out is the file system Google provides for Chrome OS. Isn't it bad enough that we have Google Documents that stores our files online? Sure, this is ubiquitous. We can now access our files anywhere, anytime. With Chrome OS, we can save file locally in a traditional way. Why would I want to do that? Why would I want them to know what kind of files I've stored locally? Isn't it bad enough that they know who I mail, what I watch on Youtube and etc?

Adaptive personalisation is part of the fast and improving technology in this century. Take Google Desktop, for example. You can search your computer instantly and jeopardise your privacy. Yes, to Google once again. Furthermore, it slows down your computer… I don't know what Google are really up to. They are still very vague with this Chrome OS. All I know is that I cannot let technology completely take over my privacy. No matter how much I love technology, there has to be some limits.

Latifa Ayoola


Guest said...

You raise a number of interesting points. The key issue here is where to draw the line between privacy and the need to collect information for improved performance. I don't think anyone has an answer to that at the moment.

Shawlly said...

this is quite informing, right on point!

Lati said...

true but it's up to every individual and how they make use of personalised recommender systems. I use google search, so when they store my queries it's anonymous because I didn't search via my igoogle they cannot know so much about me. Worst case scenario, they know my ip address. my queries are only stored for ranking most searched stuff...