Thursday 01 May, 2014
If you use Google’s Gmail service, your emails are being scanned. Not only your emails, but also the emails of everybody you communicate with.
This is not a Big Brother conspiracy theory. Google states on its site that it scans emails in order to ‘perform spam filtering and virus detection.’ In some circumstances, they scan your emails in order to place relevant ads – to benefit you, of course! That’s why if you mention something about horses in your email, you’ll find ads all about buying a horse or vets that specialize in equine animals.
Google assures us that it’s all for our benefit and protection, and the information it gathers is kept strictly confidential. It doesn’t share with any third party. However, in practice, that doesn’t appear to be the case at all.
Is Google Farming Your Data?
It sounds innocent enough. After all, it’s a free service, so you can expect to get marketed to. If it hadn’t been for a few major large-scale privacy violations committed by the Big G in the last few years, there would be no reason to worry.
However, in 2007 while taking snapshots for its Street View, Google spied on Wi-Fi networks all over the world. Using a program called gstumbler, it said it was simply gathering information on Wi-Fi networks, kind of like doing a survey. What it was actually doing was capturing all kinds of data that was being sent or received at the time that the cars drove by. Today, almost all Wi-Fi networks are password-protected but that wasn’t the case five years ago when this happened.
This caused a scandal with a few EU governments ordering Google to erase the data. But most of it is still sitting in Google’s vaults, and nobody really knows what they’re doing with it.
Protecting Your Privacy from Google
The easiest way to make sure that Google doesn’t know anything about you is to not use their products. Don’t open a Gmail account or use other services like Google +. You also might want to use Yahoo or Bing for your web searches since Google saves that data as well, or a search engine that doesn’t do any tracking at all like DuckDuckGo (www.duckduckgo.com).
One way to keep all Internet activity private is to choose the non-tracking option offered by your web browser. Newer versions of Internet Explorer have the ‘InPrivate Browsing’ option. You can get rid of tracking for ads by clearing your web browsing history. You’ll still get ads but they won’t be targeted to you.
There are other tools to help you protect your privacy when you surf the web, like Tor (www.torprojectonline.org), which lets you browse the Internet anonymously, and Jitsi (www.jitsi.org), which encrypts your online chats so they can’t be recorded. But unfortunately, there’s an ugly truth that we all have to face online – it’s that virtually anything you do online can be tracked and recorded. Google isn’t the only one that spies on what you do online.