Google Uses Services to Spin “Invisible Web” of Data Collection

by Matt Klassen on November 29, 2013

You may think Google has created an ingenious suite of useful—and not to mention free—online services, but did you ever stop to wonder what Google gets in return? The answer, in a word, is information, your information more precisely, and according to a Dutch privacy watchdog, this ‘invisible web’ of data collection is not only disconcerting, it’s illegal.

In 2012 the search engine giant rewrote its privacy policy, allowing it to”combine personal information” gleaned from its multiple products, including location information and payment data. The move allows Google to collect relatively small amounts of often innocuous data on users from each service and combine that data into a larger–and often times incredibly comprehensive– picture of a user’s habits, all of which is then used for targeted advertising, Google’s bread and butter.

It should come as no surprise to hear that the move last year sparked the ire of privacy watchdogs the world over, particularly in Europe, as many argued Google’s new rules violated privacy laws in several countries. But Google claims it has done nothing wrong, and with its global user base continually feeding its insatiable desire for information, why should it change anything?

Google scares me; I’ll just come right out and say it. While the company offers an attractive cadre of useful services, lying below the service is the company’s true motive, to learn as much about you as possible, and to the use that information to create a profile on you that the company then uses for user specific targeted advertising. In fact, Google has us so tightly wrapped around its digital finger that even as I write this I realize that my usage of the company’s product suite is unlikely to change anytime soon, they’re just so darn handy.

But according to the Dutch Data Protection Authority (DPA), Google fails to adequately inform users of its insidious data collection methods, nor does it seek their consent. “Google spins an invisible web of our personal data, without our consent. And that is forbidden by law,” DPA Chairman Jacob Kohnstamm said in a statement. The finding won’t immediately result in any enforcement measures, but Google has been invited to a hearing to determine if such measures are necessary.

Simply put, while Google may adhere to Dutch law when it comes to the privacy policies of its individual services—its not surprising that Google collects location information for its Google Maps service, or payment information for its Google Wallet service for instance—the fact it complies that information into a unified profile of its users is what’s really in question, and the Dutch, at least, think its illegal.

The Netherlands is but one of an ever-growing list of EU members who are attempting to take Google to task over its information collection practices, as the French along with five other nations have also taken action against the company for failure to implement any “significant compliance measures” with changes those countries have requested.

So what does this mean for Google? Likely not much, as if there’s one thing Google has shown itself to be, it’s wily, particularly when it comes to complying with international law. Much like its covert and questionable data collection practices, the search engine giant relies on the failure of such coordinated activities, that, coupled with the fact that the populace still clamours for Google products and I would guess this will continue unabated for quite some time.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ejaye McComb November 29, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Cool article Matt. I’ve often thought the same thing. I am it paranoid at all, and yet it’s somewhat unsettling, the amount of info Google tracks – from google maps on your iPhone/iPad, to emails, to every search… All because we log in with 1 ID. It makes Facebook ‘a knowledge of its user-base look amateurish!

We’ll written.

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