On the one hand, Google does not officially disclose this data to third parties. The company states, “We don’t share information that personally identifies you with advertisers, such as your name or email, unless you ask us to”. On the other hand, many users are unaware about the Privacy Checkup service that is used to adjust important privacy settings. After the registration, Google may be recording your search history, geolocation data, information about the devices you use, personal contacts including email and phone numbers as well as your contact lists from Android smartphones and tablets. While this information is officially used for personalising your user experience and developing new services, its disclosure can create serious problems for individuals and compromise their confidentiality and safety. Recent industry reports indicate that as much as 2.8% of the global storage capacity is dedicated to Google user data collected from three billion personal accounts.
Contrary to Facebook, Google has not been involved into major confidentiality breaches, which may suggest that its security systems are more effective. However, this does not contradict that fact that the company is collecting incredible amounts of data about all spheres of its customers’ lives and an accidental disclosure of this data may have devastating consequences. The methods of this information collection are also controversial. In 2013, Google was fined for $1.2 million for a violation of the EU data protection laws and gathering user data without express owners’ consent. In 2012, the company paid $17 million in fines across 37 states in the US for illegally tracking the web activities of consumers. Additionally, Google collects data even from regular visitors and does not openly promote its Privacy Checkup settings to regular users who may not be aware of the information they share with this corporation and their ‘default consent’ with this status quo.
Present-day cyber-security problems are largely caused by user carelessness and insecure online behaviours. Logging into third-party services and Google Play apps through Facebook accounts or using obscure keylogging and password management extensions may be highly dangerous in terms of potential loss of valuable data or finances. These risks are reflected in corporate privacy policies and Google regularly notifies its customers about the need to use two-factor authentication and complex passwords. However, even experienced users cannot protect the integrity of their data from the hackers gaining access to corporate databases. They also cannot protest against dubious data collection practices if they are not aware of them in the first place. Hopefully, new legal frameworks such as the GDPR are expected to address this problem and force Google and other corporations to be more transparent in their operations and give customers more options regarding the information they want to share.
Anna Clarke is the owner of online writing company 15 Writers. She is a successful entrepreneur with over 20 years’ experience in both freelancing and academic writing industries, specialising in Business, Economics, Finance, Marketing and Management.