Even though this may not come as a surprise to most of you, it is still something that is happening all around us, all the time, and right under our noses: Google is quietly recording everything we do, from conversations we have over the phone and texts to videos we send and create over webcams and camera phones. As if that weren’t enough, they are even tracking our movements and logging every place we visit.
The question then becomes, is this something innocent civilians need to be concerned about? Many people argue that since they have nothing to hide, being surveilled in this way doesn’t bother them. But regardless of whether we ‘deserve’ to be watched or not, isn’t this also a HUGE invasion of privacy?
Or is this simply part of the bargain when we willingly put our personal information, photos, and conversations online via social media?
The fact of the matter is that Google has a record of all of this, so you could theoretically listen to conversations you had years ago. Weird. If you knew that this had been happening while it was happening, would you still have been fine with it? If you had been given a choice to have these things recorded or not, what would you have chosen?
This raises obvious and disturbing parallels to the thought police in George Orwell’s classic 1989. At what point do we decide that enough is enough and demand our privacy? To do so, would it mean giving up our precious smartphones, which have become completely engrained into who we are and how we experience each other and the world around us? How much do we value privacy? Or is it a value?
As Snowden has said, “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”
It’s a valid point. He is responsible for exposing a lot of digital privacy information to U.S. citizens, and if it weren’t for him, many of us wouldn’t even know that the NSA was literally recording our every move, including things we were led to believe were private. Intimate conversations with loved ones, personal discussions with family members, silly jokes that could potentially be taken out of context — anything you say that is technically against the U.S. government could see you labelled as a terrorist, according to the Patriot Act.
Keep in mind that Google specifically claims this information is never used against you, but merely recorded for your best interest and to enhance your online experience. This begs the question, why not give us the option? If this is solely for our benefit, why not promote this feature and have users sign up for the specific functions they want and leave those they don’t? Yes this is public information, but how many people really know about it and how to access it? Having this information technically available to the public but not realistically accessible or publicized is much like hiding in plain sight.
Google now processes, on average, over 40,000 search inquiries every second, which translates to 0ver 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year, worldwide. The data collected from these searches is stored for each individual who conducted them. You can find out a lot about a person from their search history. Through analyzing this data, companies can then steer the results in a particular direction and the entity that is the internet could effectively influence the world. More specifically, Google could predict the future based on trends.
This information is often tied directly to location data retrieved from the device being used. This means that not only does the search engine know what your interests are, but also how they manifest and relate to where you are at any given moment. To some, perhaps many, this could be a good thing. Having your phone pop up and tell you about all the cool things that are in close proximity to where you are based on your accumulated interests at any given moment could be useful.
Let’s not forget Google’s motto: “Don’t Be Evil.” Of course, this could be a great way of simply being ‘not evil.’ But as to whether or not they are using this accumulated information for their best interest at the cost of your privacy is up to you, and luckily, you do have the option to turn all of this tracking and recording off.
If you would like to turn off this tracking, please check out the following steps provided by the Free Thought Project:
- You can start this eye-opening journey by heading to Google’s history page and looking at the long list of recordings. The company has a specific audio page as well as their record of where you’ve been on the internet.
- If you’ve never disabled the feature, you will see a list of audio recordings, even some done outside of the Google app, as well as a transcript of the audio Google has converted to text.
- What we recommend is after scrolling through Google’s recordings of your search history, delete them all and disable the functions.
- To delete particular files, you can click the check box on the left and then move back to the top of the page and select “delete”. To get rid of everything, you can press the “More” button, select “Delete options” and then “Advanced” and click through.
- The easiest way to stop Google recording everything is to turn off the virtual assistant and never to use voice search. But that solution also gets at the central problem of much privacy and data use today – doing so cuts off one of the most useful things about having an Android phone or using Google search.
*Please note, just because you turn off this tracking and recording feature on Google does not mean that you won’t continue to be tracked, recorded, and followed. The safest way to avoid this is to leave your smartphone at home from time to time, and cover your camera and mic on your webcam, computer, and smartphone. It is important to note that many Smart TVs also have these recording functions for audio and video, so if you are concerned about your privacy, be sure to unplug them when not in use.