Professor Tara Gellene
Composition and Rhetoric II
8 May 2012
Google’s Invasion of Privacy
We live in a new world. Efficient and portable technology has transformed an entire generation’s daily lives so radically that their seniors can barely relate to them. The Google search, perhaps the single most common action performed when using technology, is conducted hundreds of millions of times everyday. What is alarming and, in fact, creepy, though, is that when we search Google to explore our interests, someone else is exploring us too. Google, like a Big Brother figure, records our personal information without our knowledge and learns more about us than many would think possible. How does Google record our private information without our knowledge, and should we be concerned about their ability to do so? One form of invasion of privacy that Google facilitates concerns the person whose name is typed into the search query, or what Omar Tene, in his 2008 essay “What Google Knows: Privacy and Internet Search Engines,” calls the “target.” Much of the target’s personal information can easily be accessed through a Google search (Tene 8). Tene argues that “these efficiency gains [from search engines] come at a cost to the search targets, whose private lives become accessible by current and prospective employers, romantic prospects, nosey neighbors, press reporters, and even stalkers and other criminals” (9). “How Privacy Vanishes Online,” a New York Times article written by Steve Lohr, informs of other potentially dangerous information accessible through the aid of Google searches. For instance, two researchers at Carnegie Mellon University reported that they could accurately predict the entire social security numbers of 8.5 percent of individuals born in the United States between 1989 and 2003, which amounts to nearly 5 million people (it should be noted that this study was not limited to only using Google for its research) (Lohr). Search engines like Google enable nearly anyone in the world to access other people’s information that is both personal and confidential. The main controversy surrounding Google remains its ability to aggregate personal information about its users. Paul S. Piper explains many of Google’s capabilities to collect people’s private information in his 2008 essay “Google and Privacy.” When someone performs a Google search, a cookie is placed on his hard drive that assigns a unique identification number to that computer (Piper 197). “Unless you have disabled cookies, which would render Google unworkable,” Piper writes, “Google records and retains the unique identifier, the computer IP (Internet Protocol) address, the date and time of your search, your search terms, and the configuration of your browser” for every search (197). Additionally, Google Toolbar and Google Chrome “record every Web site you actually visit, and send that information back to Google” (Piper 197). Google stores this information indefinitely and uses it to compile complete profiles on each of its users (Piper 197). Believe it or not, we expose quite a bit of our personal selves through our search terms. Piper provides the following theoretical example of a profile that Google could compile: They know your name, your phone number, your address, your e-mail, your computer’s IP. They know the structure of your family, their income, their age. They know that two weeks ago your hot-tub was being cleaned. They know you are concerned about colon cancer. They know you like jazz and alt country. They know you like wet T shirt photos, and S&M. They know your credit rating. They know that you flew to Milwaukee last November, that your son plays soccer, and that your spouse drives a BMW. They know you favored Kerry over Bush, that you support leftist and environmental causes, that you’re a member of Moveon.org. (Piper 195)
Each of the above examples that Piper mentions is a piece of information that Google would collect from...