Google has a wide variety of services outside of its search engine that it provides for free, but really it’s not free. The true cost of utilizing these services is the personal information that Google is collecting. The collection of this data is one of the keys to what sets Google apart from other search engines because of its ability to serve personalized ads and content.
Originally the tracking cookie that Google would place on your computer didn’t expire until 2038! After a bit of push back Google limited this back to 2 years but the cookie still renews itself whenever you use a Google service.
Many people are unaware of the number of concerning controversies that have come up over the past few years around Google. For example, from 2006 through 2010 Google Streetview cars were collecting unauthorized personal data from the homes they drove by via unsecured Wi-Fi networks to the tune over 600 Gigabytes! Once the FCC and states found out about this things hit the fan. As a result, Google was forced to pay $7 Million in fines for this unauthorized collection of data. Even following this, Google was not forced to give up or destroy this data.
More recently a large violation was found by the FTC. It turns out that Google’s cookies were actually setup to violate the privacy settings within users of Apple’s Safari web browser, and would still collect and transmit data back to Google even if the user had disabled such tracking. Following this the FTC handing down at hefty $22.5 Million settlement for “Purposefully Violating Privacy of Safar Users”.
Google and the Government
While they don’t hand all their data over, Google does provide the US government with loads of user data every year. Due to the 1986 Electronics Communications Privacy Act, government agencies are not required to provide a warrant to obtain user data from Internet companies like Google. The number of user data requests has steadily risen since 2009 from 3,580 request in Jul – Dec of 2009 to 8,438 in Jul – Dec of 2012.