Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Google’s Mass Data Collection

Christopher Mims, Wall Street Journal:

As justifiable as the focus on Facebook has been, though, it isn’t the full picture. If the concern is that companies might be collecting some personal data without our knowledge or explicit consent, Alphabet’s Google is a far bigger threat by many measures: the volume of information it gathers, the reach of its tracking and the time people spend on its sites and apps.

New regulations, particularly in Europe, are driving Google and others to disclose more and seek more permissions from users. And given the choice, many people might even be fine with the trade-off of personal data for services. Still, to date few of us realize the extent to which our data is being collected and used.

“There is a systemic problem and it’s not limited to Facebook,” says Arvind Narayanan, a computer scientist and assistant professor at Princeton University. The larger problem, he argues, is that the very business model of these companies is geared to privacy violation. We need to understand Google’s role in this.

This conversation is long overdue, but it’s vital we have it. How comfortable are we with (two) large American companies collecting and storing the vast majority of our online activities? If you are, that’s fine — Google and Facebook should have no objection to fully disclosing the extent of their tracking to gain your entirely-knowledgeable permission for doing so, but you should be able to turn it off any time you want. If you aren’t comfy with that — as, I think, the past couple months’ worth of stories about Facebook have suggested — shouldn’t that be fully respected by having none of your browsing tracked? Default cookie settings play a big role in the implied consent to tracking, of course, but more insidious means have also surfaced and which are impervious to changes in cookie settings, and with no easy way of opting out. Isn’t that obviously unethical?