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Privacy - Food for Thought

 

Questions for Google about its applications and services most often refer to the inevitable topics of security and privacy protection. Google, of course, being a company based on user trust, takes these questions seriously and believes that it provides just that ? security and privacy. In fact, Google claims to adhere strictly to principles laid out in its Privacy Policy, and that all sensitive information entrusted in it are protected from third parties (not to be released without prior user consent).

Google’s policies and Frequently Asked Questions are easily accessible from its main page, open to any and all members of the public, ensuring them that their personal information is safe and sound. The only problem is that this claim is not entirely true. Unbeknownst to many of us, Google has become the all-knowing Big Brother.
For instance, when Google Buzz, Google’s real time collaboration tool, launched back in February 2010, Google was instantly criticized for involuntarily sharing personal profile information of Gmail users. This brought on an onslaught of customer complaints that Google was thrown into defense mode and started scrambling to make adjustments to Google Buzz.

EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) was reported to have filed a complaint with the FTC claiming that Google Buzz, Google’s Gmail based Social Networking Service, engaged in unfair and deceptive practices.
So what does Google even mean? The term “google” is derived from “googol”, a word representing the number “1” followed by 100 zeroes, popularized by prominent mathematician Edward Kasner. It follows then, that Googol, which signifies “a really, really big number”, is a suitable name for Google, a company that allows its users to access just as much information, if not more.

Likewise, Google also holds the keys to just as much information. Google saves all data acquired from browsing different servers. This data amounts to quite a bit of information and the number of servers (and costs) increases accordingly. Still, it manages to make revenue off of its advertisements. Google streamlines which ads appear on the side as we search for specific things. As you might already know, services provided by Google border on the countless.

If you go to Google’s homepage and click ‘more’ (located at the top of the page), you will find access to 30+ services, ready to use. Google invented Google Chrome, its very own web browser, and Android, a browser that lets users surf the web from mobile phones. Google’s Google Earth program provides three-dimensional maps of the world and now it has also acquired YouTube, the largest video-sharing website online. Not to mention, Google also provides translation services that are climbing in popularity as we speak.

There are four ethical guidelines that all Information Service Providers, including Google, must follow. First, ISPs must protect user privacy. Second, ISPs must be able to guarantee accuracy of all information provided through their services. Third, ISPs must protect intellectual property. And finally, ISPs must guarantee accessibility to information. To be able to successfully carry out these four tasks, security becomes their most fundamental task, and tool.

Unfortunately, security can easily be breached, especially over a wireless connection. It is therefore the ISP’s responsibility to put together a fail-proof security system in case of attack by hackers. However, the irony lies in that there can be no such thing as a fail-proof security system. Still, Google has an ethical obligation to fulfill, and should strive to honor its promise to the public. This means that Google must design and continuously update a security system that protects its users to the best of its abilities, and admit that its programs are not perfect. Covering up its blunders and shortcomings with lies isn’t exactly the public’s idea of a solution.

At the same time, we, the users of the net, should not leave it to the ISPs to do all the work. It is really up to us to protect our own so-called “sensitive information.” The Internet is a jungle, and in the lawless, non-regulated world of the jungle, the sooner we realize that the rules of the civil no longer apply, the less of a chance we have of becoming its victims.

 

Cho Ki-jo  kjcho@kyungnam.ac.kr

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