Google Is Ginormous: Why You Should Care

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Google is Ginormous
Image Credit: Google Ventures -
If you have a Google e-mail account, use Google search, and see online ads that are served by Google's DoubleClick, the chances are good that Google knows more about you than you might want to share with your significant other.

We trust Google with an unprecedented amount of our data--from our entire search history (Web History), e-mail (Gmail), physical location (Latitude), to maybe even our health records (Google Health). Google stores massive amounts of data about our activities on its servers. And therein lies a privacy paradox. Why is it that we storm the gates of Facebook when it changes its privacy policy, but give Google a pass when it comes to the massive amounts of data that it collects on us?

To get a handle on just how big Google is, at left is an image of an interactive mind map (or diagram) of Google's empire created by PCWorld. (Click here to interact with Google mind map.) This interactive map allows you to explore over 100 of the company's products, services, and investments. It's a real eye-opener once you consider Google's push into so many aspects of our lives.

(See Related Links: Maintain Your Privacy on Google With a Dash of Paranoia & Google Knows Even More About You Than You Think )

Google: What's Not to Love?

One reason we give Google a pass on privacy issues: It is a likeable brand. It offers dozens of free consumer services we enjoy: from Google Earth, Picasa photo editing software and image hosting, to Google Docs. The quid pro quo we agree to is giving Google bits of our personal information so that the Internet giant can more effectively follow us around the Web and target ads to us.

But the bigger Google gets and the more we rely on it, the more our tolerance for Google's digital omnipresence becomes challenged. Over the past months we've glimpsed the ugly side of our bargain with Google. A number of privacy-related lawsuits, formal complaints to the Federal Trade Commission from advocacy groups, and rumors of Department of Justice antitrust scrutiny--all may suggest that our enthusiasm for Google is cooling.

Google Privacy Screwups

In May Google admitted that its Street View cars were collecting sensitive personal information from unencrypted wireless networks along with harvesting photos of the world's roadways. A privacy uproar erupted in Germany, where the inadvertent snooping was discovered, and the outrage made its way to this country, where Washington's Neil Mertz and Oregon's Vicki Van Valin have filed a class-action lawsuit against Google, accusing it of violating federal privacy and data acquisition laws.

The lawsuit alleges that Google collected parts of documents, e-mail messages, video, audio, and VoIP information being sent over networks scanned by Google's Street View cars. The plaintiffs are seeking up to $10,000 for each time that Google collected data from unprotected hotspots, according to court documents.

Google acknowledged the privacy snafu, and said it hadn't known it was collecting the extra data until recently and would delete it. Meanwhile, Google faces a criminal investigation in Germany over the matter; and here in the United States the Federal Trade Commission was asked by privacy groups such as EPIC (the Electronic Privacy Information Center) to investigate Google's stateside data collection.

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