Who’s Afraid of Big Bad Google?

By Aaron Goldman

I just came across a fascinating article on Computerworld titled, “What the Web Knows About You.” In it, Robert Mitchell chronicles his 2-week adventure gathering all the information available on the web about his identity.

So much attention has been focused on Google as Big Brother (which has resulted in new policies like reducing the time data is stored) but Mitchell’s tale shows that Google should be the least of our concerns. In just a few minutes, Mitchell surfaced a mortgage document stored in a county database that included his social security number. Meanwhile, all he could get from Google was his age, phone number and some scattered pics and posts.

Below is a full breakdown of the sources Mitchell scoured and the information each turned up…

Source: Search engines

Information discovered: Age, phone numbers, Computerworld affiliation, Computerworld stories, blog posts, identifying photos, social network and nonprofit affiliations, editorial award

Source: Free people searches

Information discovered: Employer name, job title, age, month and date of birth, phone numbers, wife's name and age, historical addresses and phone numbers, personal e-mail address, identifying photographs, employment history

Source: Image search

Information discovered: Computerworld publicity photos, Flickr photos

Source: Social network search engines

Information discovered: Computerworld stories, blog posts, social network friends and co-workers

Source: Government records

Information discovered: Full legal name, address, Social Security number, spouse's name and Social Security number, price paid for home, mortgage documents, signature

Source: Paid searches

Information discovered: Address history to 1985; real estate purchase dates, assessed values and mortgagors; 2004 property tax bill; nonprofit affiliations; Flickr account details; published stories; parents' names, address, phone number and first five digits of Social Security numbers; current and past neighbors' names, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth and first six digits of Social Security numbers

I think the moral of the story here is that privacy advocates have bigger fish to fry than Google. While it’s understandable that Google is bearing the brunt of the scrutiny due to its popularity, we should all be cognizant of the repercussions of continued crucification of the Big G -- all that data that Google’s collected and is so valuable to marketers for targeting could be taken away with a wave of the Governmental wand.

Efforts like the Network Advertising Initiative are a good start towards furthering the dialogue and educating consumers but it’s going to take more resources to squash the vocal minority that’s speaking out against Google’s current online data collection practices and turn the focus instead on the entities that are truly comprising the privacy of its constituents, such as, er… the Government.


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