Posted on Aug 08, 2013

Every time you log onto the internet, someone is watching. Most people are aware of that by now. But although most people know big brother is watching, some might be surprised to learn just how closely big brother is watching.

Take Google for example. Would you be surprised to learn that all (and I do mean all) of your Google searches, G-Mail messages, YouTube video views, website passwords and even credit card information is viewable on a user-friendly web page that even has its own search engine?

That’s exactly what journalist Tom Gara found on his Google Dashboard. The only thing keeping all of this information from, shall we say, overly curious strangers is the login credential to your Google account.

Of course, there was also the infamous “Wi-Spy” scandal in which Google admitted to using its Google “Street View” cars (which provide Google Earth imaging) to travel through major cities and vacuum up personal data such as browser activity, emails as well as medical and financial records through all the nearby Wi-Fi networks. They claimed the “Street View” cars were intended to collect Wi-Fi network names and router addresses to improve location-based services like Google Maps, which uses cell towers and Wi-Fi access points to determine user locations.

Essentially, Google claimed that the whole thing was an accident and that none of its project leaders used the data or even looked at it. The case was settled earlier this year when Google paid $7 million to 38 states plus the District of Columbia. In order to accurately measure the severity of such a fine, consider the fact that Google generated $50 billion last year which averages out to almost $6 million per hour.

Perhaps Google’s view on internet privacy can be summed up symbolically on their very own Google Chrome internet browsing interface. Users can enter a supposedly “private” browsing mode by opening an “Incognito Window”. If you open up an “Incognito Window” and look in the corner, you’ll see this icon:

Graphic of big brother watching

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Although Google may be the worst offender, they’re definitely not the only ones breaching your privacy. Facebook recently admitted to leaking the personal contact information of at least six million users while Microsoft was mentioned in the top-secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden regarding the National Security Agency’s spying tactics.

In this day and age, it’s virtually impossible to achieve true internet privacy but there are a few things you can do. One is to clear your internet “cache” and “cookies” after each browsing session and delete old accounts you no longer use. You can also avoid using your real name and contact info whenever possible and limit the number of people that you connect with on social media sites.

Jill Erin Wellskopf
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Director of Marketing, Hupy and Abraham