The federal obsession with peering into people's lives continues to metastasize. Today, I want to alert you to an alarming new situation where Google, the mega Internet search engine service, is in cahoots with Uncle Sam to root into Americans' personal lives.
And there are a few privacy defenses you can mount – which I will share with you momentarily.
Google's upcoming changes to their privacy policies are causing an uproar, because the new versions read more like "invasion of privacy policies." If you use any Google service and are concerned about your privacy and anonymity, there is a need to better protect yourself.
Sitesell.com founder Dr. Ken Evoy wrote a terse letter to Google regarding its upcoming changes. His gripe is Google is not being clear on how its new privacy policies affect the typical Google consumer. Therefore, Google is forcing the consumer to accept a new contract without properly informed consent.
The typical internet user does not fully understand the business transaction taking place when using Google's free services: The real reason you get to use Google services for free is because Google sells away all your privacy to advertisers. That's the exchange; that's the contract. You may already understand this reality because my Independent Living and Executive Bulletin readers are more savvy than others, but few consumers in the mass market are truly informed.
The Feds Want Copies of Your Private Online Activity
and Google Happily Complies...
and Google Happily Complies...
The public uproar focuses on how freely Google offers up your private online activities to the feds and other governments around the world.
Google's Transparency Report on Government Requests shows that in just a six month period in 2011 the U.S. government made 5,950 requests covering 11,057 specific accounts. Google complied 93% of the time! Due to all the different gag-like laws, you will never know if you or someone close to you was part of this or any future government dragnet.
India's government had the second most requests at only 1,739 covering just 2,439 specific users. In this instance, Google complied only 70% of the time.
If we look purely at Google's "percentage of compliance," the number two spot after the U.S. is tied between Brazil and Japan, at 87%. What's telling is Brazil's government only made 703 requests, while Japan only made 75 requests in the same period.
It seems from the data that other governments are more discriminating than the U.S. when it comes to rifling through the public's online activity. The feds' numbers are off the charts and Google happily complies.
What Can You Do About It?
Before this change, each service was separated and compartmentalized by an internal "Chinese Wall" of sorts. When the new policy begins on March 1, all your Google activity will be consolidated, traced, recorded, and permanently stored in big centralized databases out of your control and oversight.
The first steps to push back (... if they can't "see" you, they can't trace you easily):
- For the tracing and recording of your activity to work, you must be logged into Google's services. Make sure to log-off from all your Google services if it doesn't require you to be logged-in to use it. For example, you don't need to be logged into YouTube to watch videos.
- Set your Google services to the maximum security available. For instance, Google's browser, Chrome, can be set to Incognito Mode to give you a bit more privacy. Simply strike Shift-Control-N while in Google Chrome to open a new window in Incognito Mode.
- Look over Google privacy tools for further directions.
Other Alternatives outside Google's Hive
Because centralization of your data is an Achilles' heel to privacy and anonymity, decentralization is one important solution. Here are a few Google-product alternatives:
- Online Search Alternatives to Google – Ixquick (https://www.ixquick.com/) is a privacy conscious search engine. It doesn't record your IP address when you search, and it has additional privacy tools like a proxy server to look at search results anonymously.
- Email Alternatives to Gmail – Hushmail (https://www.hushmail.com/) offers free online email similar to Gmail with one unique advantage: built-in tools to encrypt emails making them more secure from eavesdroppers. If you're open to a paid email service, Simon Black from Sovereign Man suggests adding a layer of protection from the feds by working with an email provider located in privacy friendly jurisdictions: He mentions (http://www.NeoMailbox.com/) headquartered in Switzerland and (https://secure.runbox.com/) located in Norway.
- Web browser Alternatives to Google's Chrome - Apple's Safari (https://www.apple.com/safari/
) is a popular browser and so is Mozilla's Firefox (https://www.mozilla.org/en- US/firefox/new/). Firefox also has many free security and privacy related add-ons that allow more anonymity.
- Alternatives to Google Maps – Rand McNally (http://maps.randmcnally.com) gives you online directions and helps you find local businesses and hotels. Mapquest (https://www.mapquest.com/) can do the same, plus it gives you traffic conditions.
Here's What's Truly Disturbing...
Considering Google's intrusion of privacy and how readily it surrenders customer data to the feds, many privacy critics on security forums shared this similar comment: "... be careful what you write or text in your email, blog, SMS; what you say over Google voice; what you browse or search for online..." In other words – Censor Yourself!
Before you capitulate to self-censorship, try some of the suggestions above to maintain more of your privacy, anonymity, freedom of speech, and especially freedom of thought.