Search Engine Guru Spies More Than Ever

By Richard Schulz –

Jon West gets on his laptop everyday.  He searches for scores on the most recent college basketball games, he often takes mental notes to plan for his March Madness bracket.  At he same time someone is taking notes on him.

In what is a growing infringement on individual privacy online, Google announced Thursday it is changing its privacy settings so it can find out even MORE about its users than ever before. And they’re not the only ones.  Amazon is compiling everything it can about its shoppers and some Apple apps are snagging the information out of user’s address books without their permission.

Although the France government has announced it may take action against Google, because European countries have much stricter privacy laws, many here in America are not happy about it but it will probably not do much about it.

“Maybe at first, but that will subside,” said West, a student from Penn Manor High School, who disagrees with the change but admits he will still use it.
Like millions of others.
The convenience of Google, Google Docs, Gmail and other services will keep West and others using Google despite the fact that Google is spying through their virtual fence.
Spying eyes may make users more cautious to what they do on Google or Safari.

“I’m interested in how long they keep the search history,” said librarian Diane Bounds who thinks Google should help enhance student searches but not keep records.

The policy change is that anything that searched, or even slide their mouse over, Google and Safari can use information from it and relate it to advertisements in which the user may be interested. Safari normally blocks these cookies because it’s in their privacy policy.

But there’s an exception.

Penn Manor student using Google for research. Photo credit from author.

When an ad is on the screen and the user clicks on it, a form pops up. If the form is filled out then all that information can be used for any searches you may make. Using script, which many major companies use, the user doesn’t have to submit that form for that information to be recorded. Google already practices this.

“Google is trying to keep up with everyone else,” said Sean McKnight, a Penn Manor tech teacher. He says he’s against it, like many others, and doesn’t want to deal with it.

“You pay to be online. Do I want to have my information published? No!” said McKnight.

“Computer cookies,” said Jonathan Mayer, a grad student at Stanford, talking about what the new settings can do, from an NPR interview. Mayor is in the process of making an option in the privacy option saying “Do not track” which will send a message to websites blocking the ability.

“It’s kind of like planting a Do Not Trespass sign in your lawn only for your web policy,” said Mayor about his option to the policy.

Some sites support Mayor’s idea, others not so much.

Two of the major companies that are going to join Google and not follow Mayor’s option are websites used by millions each day. Facebook and Twitter.

Lawsuits were quickly mentioned when the news broke out. Even a letter of complaint was signed by three dozen state attorneys general to Google. The news spread like wildfire and reached even the tallest branches of government.

Users from Penn Manor agree that they just want the old policy settings instead of feeling like they are having all their information tracked. They agree that it needs to be “simple principles” for privacy protection. Regular people want simple settings.

Snooping continues to get high tech.  Sites can get to know their users better by a nifty tool, the beacon. The beacon tracks mouse movements and can take information about a picture or that site and use it for advertisements. Every move the mouse makes, Google’s watching.

“There’s a large number of companies that have been circumventing internet explorers and privacy protections for a long time,” said Lori Faith Cranor a Computer Science Professor at Carnagie Mellon University.

Unless consumers put their privacy doors slammed, Google and others will be peeking in.