Beware of the Google-y Eyes!

Google’s new Privacy Policy has reached the forefront of a heated public debate.

The policy is laced with the false promise of making privacy a “priority.”  The deceptive phrasing of the policy may initially take you in, but read in-between the lines and it smacks of disingenuity.

In the same policy document, the search engine outlines its plans to share private consumer data to all of its services; including Gmail, Google+ and YouTube.

The tech giant intends to track our cookies in order to garner knowledge about our web-browsing habits and then sell this valuable information on to advertisers to maximise its profits.

In the policy, Google’s so-called commitment to protect our privacy is strikingly juxtaposed with its elaborate plan to amass every last snippet of our data and distribute it as if it were dealing poker chips across a casino table to the biggest players in advertising, who will take a gamble on the utility of the information.

Earlier this week, France’s data protection watchdog, the CNIL, hit back and launched a Europe-wide investigation into the legality of the policy.

Peter Fleischer of Google’s Global Privacy Counsel, responded to CNIL that its “transparent Privacy Policy respects all European protection laws and principles.”

This statement is remarkably difficult to defend. The policy appears to breach the European Data Protection Directive and run counter to the U.S. Safe Harbor principles on privacy.

The definition of ‘personal data’ in Google’s Privacy Policy is inconsistent with the Directive’s definition and the policy fails to cover all items of sensitive personal data required by the European legislation. The incoherency of the policy also militates against the Safe Harbor’s requirement for clarity.

Furthermore, contrary to the Directive’s requirements, Google expresses little commitment to cooperate with data protection authorities. Jeff Chester, Executive Director of the Privacy Group Centre for Digital Democracy explained that Google hopes that “by creating a one-stop shop for privacy policy it will deflect regulatory action.”

Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post fears that by circumventing privacy law, Google will be able to produce a “massive cauldron of data” which it will exploit to its wicked ends.

So are we teetering on the brink of a dismal Orwellian future, wherein the rulers of the online world will inspect our every move through the great cyber panopticon that we call the World Wide Web?

Google’s Director of Privacy, Alma Whitten, implied that we should be willing to sacrifice our privacy right for the benefits which attach to using the free Google service. In a blog post earlier this week she defended the policy as aiming to “treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.”

The sharing of information will enable Google to improve its mighty search algorithm. This will be conducive to a more personalised browsing experience with tailored search results and adverts targeted to our taste and preferences.

The burning question is whether privacy is a tradable commodity which we can impliedly waive in return for these services.

Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg would have us believe that privacy is no longer a social norm.

Yet, even in this modern age of social networking, there is something deeply unsettling about the thought that this fundamental human right could be rendered otiose in the realms of cyberspace. At the very least, each individual should be permitted a zone of privacy in which to carry out his internet activities beyond interference.

Delineating this zone is the endemic problem. It’s therefore no surprise that Google’s Privacy Policy proposes the following ultimatum: we can either forfeit our privacy right to enjoy the Google product or withdraw from the Google service altogether and be forever doomed!

There is a third way. The answer lies in performing a series of random searches which will confuse the tech giant as to your identity.

So when revision blues surface and procrastination kicks in, why not clog the Google engine by searching for random things like Michelin star restaurants, budget recipes, electric chainsaws, chihuahua fashion trends, condiment sandwiches, slim fast shakes, koala auctions, LEGO architecture, walking sticks, tornado chasing hotspots…or whatever else may cross your stream of consciousness.

It’s a private joke and Google, the joke’s on you!

-Iman Sana Teemul