In his famous dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell introduced us to Big Brother, the leader of Oceania, who was power-hungry and had no interest in serving the common good. (Remind you of someone?) Back in the late 1940s, when Orwell wrote the novel, it was inconceivable that a government would subject its people to constant surveillance. In Oceania, surveillance was conducted via tele screens; they were often reminded that “Big Brother is watching you.” Of course, Orwell’s story is simply fiction; it could never happen…
Fast foward 70 years. Big Brother is here — and it’s right in your pocket or your hands. Google, while not a villainous autocrat, is watching you all the time — in ways that even Orwell’s Big Brother could not even fathom. Although most consider Google a search engine/apps company, it is actually a powerful, invasive ad agency with a voracious appetite for personal information — yours and every person on the planet who unwittingly surrenders their privacy to it — just so that it can make lots of money and sell you stuff. Consider that in 2015, Google earned $75 billion and 77% of it, $52 billion, came from advertising.
So how much does Google really know about you? Tom Gara, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, wanted to find out what Big Brother — I mean, Google — knows about him. What he discovered is enough to make you feel a bit violated. Gara writes: “Imagine there’s a list somewhere that contains every single webpage you have visited in the last five years. It also has everything you have ever searched for, every address you looked up on Google Maps, every email you sent, every chat message, every YouTube video you watched. Each entry is time-stamped, so its clear exactly, down to the minute, when all of this was done.” Google compiles an enormous amount of data about you and places it in three locations: My Dashboard, My Activity, and My Account. If someone were to hack into that information, they would learn all about you — perhaps more than your parents, your spouse, even your friends: who you know, what you read, what you watch, what you shop for, what you buy, what you write, and thus what you think. Welcome to the Orwellian modern world, the Age of Google.
This is what Google knew about reporter Gara:
64,019 searches he has done
9,220 videos he has watched (and exactly when and what order)
117 apps he has downloaded
35 passwords he has stored in Google Chrome
Number of Android devices he owns (3)
3 credit card numbers
All the purchases he has made with those credit cards
855 documents he has created
Where he lives
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For further reading: https://blogs.wsj.com/corporate-intelligence/2013/07/31/googles-all-seeing-eye-does-it-see-into-me-clearly-or-darkly/