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Is Google Watching You?

12 Jan 2014 | Posted Under Internet
Is Google watching you?  A better question is, “Who isn't watching you?”  You hear about it in the news every day. The NSA is grabbing tons of consumer information without any legal authority. Weekly you hear about security breaches at large corporations like Target and other major department stores.  Banking institutions are being hacked for millions of dollars, yet billion of consumers are passively giving up their privacy to free email services, social network subscriptions and smart phone applications. Software applications have had "so-called" artificial intelligence installed since the late 90's. Word processors guess at what you mean while you type. Smartphones often do the same. What does all this mean to your privacy? This article will explore how the internet has removed most of your communications privacy. Now Google, social networks and the major software players all have their sites trained on what you're doing with the intention of getting more of your money. Worse of all, legions of criminals and even our own government is spying on all of us. So read on and learn. Forewarned is forearmed.

Let's Start by Looking at How Google Tracks You.

English: Gmail logo
English: Gmail logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The other day I went to send an email via Google’s Gmail service and I mentioned in the body of the letter that I had attached a document. I forgot to attach the document and pressed send. Immediately Gmail paused and asked me if I meant to attach a file. Gmail was reading what I had written!! You will also notice that the ads listed in Gmail also correspond to items you have recently viewed in your browser. Sometimes it’s even something you’ve written about. What it boils down to is that Gmail is scanning everything you write and then passing this information onto to Google before you ever press send.

Google tracking is not limited to your “free” Gmail account. Virtually every service Google offers tracks your movements and keystrokes.  Last July, when there was a huge buzz about Google privacy policy changes, a small software company came out with a plug-in for Google Chrome that would sound and display an alarm every time Chrome would send tracking information back to Google. This program created quite a stir because once you loaded it the alarm would go off constantly because Google was tracking almost every keystroke.

Google Being Sued?

Image representing Android as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase
Currently Google is being sued by several countries for excessive invasion of privacy. Now, even Google’s competitors have jumped on the anti-privacy band wagon. Microsoft started an anti-Google campaign saying Don’t Get Scroogled by Google. Microsoft even came out with T-shirts and coffee cups that people could buy.  They also ran several TV commercials nationwide taking potshots at Google’s privacy policies. Recently Google removed your capability to control your privacy setting on android devices running Android 4.42. I won’t bore you with a long list of application services that Google uses to track you. It’s safe to say that all of them track you in some way.

Many Other Companies are Also Taking Advantages of Us!

When it comes to data mining it’s not just Google who’s doing it on a land office basis. Yahoo, Bing (owned by Microsoft) and most search engines track you as well. Also any free service you acquire from the internet virtually guarantees spyware of one form or another. They track how often you use their apps, they will often load adware on your devices, they will hound you to buy other applications and service and they will record where you are and what other functions you may be using. This is especially true of smart phone and tablet applications. You should read the disclaimers that show up when you install any free app. Most say things like they have access to your contact data base, ip address, system access and more. That means that application can control vital functions of your smart device!

Image representing Xbox as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase
Recently Microsoft released its new XBOX One game console and guess what? It requires you to login to Microsoft in order to play the console! Earlier I alluded to Microsoft Scroogled marketing campaign against Google.  But the reality is that Microsoft has been spying on you for a very long time. All Microsoft applications call home and the Windows operating system calls home every day to check for updates and to make sure your applications are paid for! They also use the crash recovery monitor to send system information back that tracks what you are doing (what apps were running) at the time of the crash.

What About Social Media?

Social Media Audit 2013
Social Media Audit 2013 (Photo credit: JNFerree)
Let not forget to include in our discussion how Social Media tracks your conversation. Any social network you subscribe to literally owns the information you have keyed into their database. Every post, URL, picture, podcast and video you have uploaded belongs to them. They systems scan every keystroke and match it to ads that run on their system. They are scrutinizing every personal and private entry you make. On top of that, your employers and anyone you are connected with can see your posts! This can includes criminals disguised as beautiful blonds and little old ladies that just want to be friends.  Be very careful with what you post on any social network. Do not disclose your age, personal address, when you are on vacation, when you’re not home, where you bank, or any kind of private or financial information. Cyber criminals are monitoring social networks more than ever. So much so that the FBI has raised the threat level for social networks to the highest level.  Read their articles on the FBI’s website. Add to this the ongoing threats from hackers using widely available free hacking tools, deceptive email tactics and phishing websites and you have an internet onslaught that’s wilder than the wild, wild west.

Let’s Not Forget the NSA!

Great Seal Bug from NSA archives
Great Seal Bug from NSA archives (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
To make things even worse our own government is spying on us.The NSA is gathering hundreds of terabytes of data from Google, all social media sites, Microsoft, Apple Yahoo, Bing, cell phone companies and many more internet players. This has gotten so out of hand that the congressional oversight committee that monitors the NSA recently stated that they had gone too far in their data gathering strategies and they have to stop gathering information without a specific threat.

In addition, it not just the internet that is eroding your privacy, its anything connected to internet.  Smart devices are everywhere. The Boston Bomber was caught because people where taking pictures of the racers coming to the finish line. Internet security cameras are all the rage with home and business owners. Often times one or more of their cameras are pointed outside covering the entrance to their properties. The next time you’re at Wal-Mart, look up before you enter and smile you’re on Wal-Mart candid camera.  And just to make it really interesting, people are now starting to wear smart eye wear (such as Google Glass) to record their surroundings. There are smart watches and tiny spy cameras everywhere. Some large retailers have been caught tracking their patrons store movements via the customers smart phone IP addresses and if you have an app for that store running, more than likely you will receive a text, email or popup suggesting you check out their latest special on whatever they are trying to push on you, the unaware consumer.

So how do you minimize your loss of privacy when using the internet? Well we have done our research and have provided several alternative internet browsers, email, search engines and anti tracking tools to help you, our readers get the privacy they deserve.

Here is Our List to Keep Your Internet life More Private!
  • Don’t use Chrome, Internet Explorer or Safari as your browser. Some alternatives include; SRware  Comodo
  • Don’t Use Google, Yahoo or Bing, (and others) as your search engines . Best alternatives; Duck Duck Go Start page Ixquick and Blekko
  • A great Plug-in app is Abine’s DoNotTrackMe It works with Chrome and Firefox and does a decent job of minimizing ad tracking software. This can block web tracking, cookies and email tracking. Another woth mentioning is Web of Trust This plug-in does not stop track of any kind but it does warn you about URL’s that have bad reputations so that you will avoid them..
  • Don't use the top five social networks (Facebook, YouTube, Google Plus, Twitter and LinkedIn). Here is a list of social networks that provide much greater privacy. Everyme23SnapsNotabliNextdoorYammer,CouplePathFamily WallEdmodo, and Photocircle.
  • Tablets, Smart phones and other smart devices need professional protection! – Make sure you are running an antivirus/malware application on your smart device. Make sure its on all the time. Only use apps that have been around for a while. They should have lots of downloads and say they do not use adware. Also buy the apps you use unless you are just trying it out.
  • Don’t use free email – A paid email service like Hushmail can provide no-ad private email for very little money. If you must use it, try using a masking application like DoNotTrackMe or use encryption software like the kind provided by TrendMicro or Voltage.
If you want to see a YouTube video on this subject, check out our WebTV show on call "Is Google Watching You! Its the TV version of the radio show. Keep an eye out for the cool hidden Easter eggs we have added to the TV version of the show.

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