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BLOG: Google privacy fiasco lesson: There is no privacy

Tony Bradley | Feb. 21, 2012
Google is in some hot water for bypassing privacy controls on the Safari Web browser in iOS devices--and allegedly on Internet Explorer as well--to surreptitiously track users' online activities. While Google deals with the backlash and regulatory scrutiny from the FTC, there is an important lesson to be learned: privacy is dead.

I might prefer that the pictures I took of my kids playing in the park, or the fact that I was shopping Amazon for suede blazer not be shared with the general public. But, if it were it wouldn't really matter. Whoever might stumble across such revelations would surely be bored to death.

It may be shady if Google has been tracking my Web surfing habits on my iPhone, but for me--and probably the vast majority of the users in the world--there is nothing Earth-shattering to be learned from that. It may be sneaky if friends of mine joined Path and my contact details were uploaded to Path's servers, but my name and email address are plastered in so many places across the Internet that I have long since surrendered any expectation that the information is a secret.

Even in situations where you have an illusion of privacy, your data is probably not as private as you believe. Facebook, Google, Path, and others have all been guilty of accessing or sharing information in ways not explicitly authorized by users--and those are just the incidents we know about. It's possible, or perhaps even probable, that other entities are also secretly tapping your private data and simply haven't yet been caught.

It's All Public

You should just assume that if you post it, share it, access it, or store it online that it's probably going to be seen by some unauthorized party at some point. Maybe it's by a malicious hacker, or perhaps by a trusted entity like Facebook or Google, or it might be by law enforcement or government agencies.

To some extent, you do have some power to protect your own privacy. For starters, you can make sure you understand and implement all of the security and privacy controls at your disposal for the sites and services you use. Next, you can simply choose not to do business with sites or services that violate your trust and breach your privacy.

Even if you take those steps, though, and do everything in your power to enforce the protection of your privacy, you should essentially consider everything online to be public. If you truly don't want certain thoughts, beliefs, personal data, or other information about you to be known to the general public or by any third-parties, you should think twice about whether it should ever be online in the first place.

Again, I am not apologizing for Google in any way, or for Path, or for any other entity that might violate the expectation of privacy. I am, however, suggesting that the expectation of privacy itself is optimistic, and that you should not be surprised when you learn that your "private" information isn't quite as private as you thought.


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