We have looked at a number of areas where our privacy may be at risk. One service that we all use without fail is Google.
There has been a fair amount of Google bashing particularly since it changed its privacy statement. The rhetorical outcry was Is Google evil?
I think the answer is no. It is a business. As agreed previously Google is a seriously large and wealthy listed company and exists in order to create value and it has done that by making use of personal information that consumers freely give to it. Consolidation of that information carries serious privacy implications but the company that does such a thing isn’t evil. Companies will do what they can within the law to get the most value out of their assets. Companies are expected to extract value where they can, and when they do so they can’t be called evil any more than a lion that chases down and brings down its prey.
Putting all the various privacy issues aside, Google provides a service that has hardly received any publicity at all. I confess I stumbled on it by accident. But it is well worth while knowing about it. That service is called Takeout that exposes a large chunk of its database of what it knows about you.
It all started with Google search that seemed innocuous. But later you could sign up for a Gmail account and suddenly any searches you did while signed onto Gmail could have an identity assigned to them and, with a small wriggle, Google roughly knew what was on your mind. Google Docs was another chance to gather data and the social network Google+ really ups the ante. Every post is captured and Google has access to information such as who is in your circles; not only that you know those people but what your relationship is to them because you’ve defined your circles so carefully by classifying them as family, friends, colleagues, and so on.
Google Calendar reveals where you are going to be. Google Maps gleans where you are considering going. Google Latitude knows exactly where you are right now. Picasa stores pictures and if you carefully tag them, you have provided more information about where you have been and whom you have been with.
Google Chrome keeps track of your browsing habits and history. Google Checkout and Google Wallet know what you are buying and where you are. The android operating system can track every aspect of your smartphone usage, including the apps you have loaded. YouTube searches can reveal a propensity or inclinations that you might not want other people to know about.
I can vouch for all this because I use Google as my backup service for my smartphone.
To be fair, it notifies me of many aspects of my activities. One example is to allow me to manipulate my phone usage log in a way not available through the phones built in register.
The Google Takeout service is so simple that it is completely undocumented when you visit the site. You sign in, and then see an offer to “Download an archive of your data from” a variety of services outlined below, and that’s it. You can grab it all in one click, or choose specific services from which to download, but unless your usage of these services is exhaustive as it may be for thousands of Google Docs or Picasa photos, the one-click approach is easiest.
Here’s what Takeout currently offers:
- A list of URLs to all the +1s you’ve handed out.
- Your Google Buzz history, presuming you have one.
- A list of contacts from your circles in Google+.
- A list of the contacts you have saved in Gmail. (These are kept separate from your circles contacts.)
- Copies of all the Google Docs you’ve uploaded.
- Copies of any photos you’ve uploaded to Picasa.
- Some basic information about the personal data you include in your Google+ Profile
- Links to each entry you’ve personally shared on your Google+ Stream.
- Your full Google Voice log, including a list of all attempted and completed calls and texts, MP3s of each voice mail, and Google’s transcript of each message.
Everything arrives in a single zipped file revealing a separate folder for each Google service. The formatting of this material can be inconsistent. Google Voice messages are saved as individual HTML and MP3 files, but your +1 bookmarks are amalgamated into a single file. Picasa photos are well organised into folders but Google Docs are delivered en masse regardless of how you use collections on the site.
Circles and contacts information comes in the form of several VCF files, each containing information for contacts divided into the default categories for Google+. These are easiest to open with Windows Contacts. Information on my Circles contacts was limited to a name and a link to their Google+ profile.
What you do not get from the system are:
- Your Google search history.
- Your Google talk chat history.
- Google Wallet and Google Checkout details, including credit card information and a history of purchases.
- YouTube materials, including videos you liked, shared, or uploaded.
- Posts created with blogger, or comments you’ve left on blogger sites.
- Google Calendar entries.
- Google Health data.
- Bookmarks stored or synced with Chrome or the Google Toolbar.
- Google Latitude location information.
- Anything related to your android phone, including your account or your android market downloads. This you can get through an android app.
- Anything involving Orkut, AdWords, Google Finance, amongst others.
Should you wish to delete anything you will have to go through each application or if you really want to be drastic just delete your Gmail account. I cannot tell you if that actually empties Google’s cache there and then.
So while you have your feet up during the festive season you can have a browse and decide if something that maybe embarrassing should be deleted.
I do wish you a very happy Christmas and new year and thank you for your continued support.