Google: even if you have nothing to hide, you may have something to fear
I generally use Firefox as my browser, but most people I know use Google Chrome. It turns out that there is a big difference between the two.
Seen from the inside, its Chrome browser looks a lot like surveillance software.
My tests of Chrome vs. Firefox unearthed a personal data caper of absurd proportions. In a week of Web surfing on my desktop, I discovered 11,189 requests for tracker “cookies” that Chrome would have ushered right onto my computer but were automatically blocked by Firefox...
Chrome welcomed trackers even at websites you would think would be private. I watched Aetna and the Federal Student Aid website set cookies for Facebook and Google. They surreptitiously told the data giants every time I pulled up the insurance and loan service’s log-in pages.
And that’s not the half of it.
Look in the upper right corner of your Chrome browser. See a picture or a name in the circle? If so, you’re logged in to the browser, and Google might be tapping into your Web activity to target ads. Don’t recall signing in? I didn’t, either. Chrome recently started doing that automatically when you use Gmail.
Chrome is even sneakier on your phone. If you use Android, Chrome sends Google your location every time you conduct a search. (If you turn off location sharing it still sends your coordinates out, just with less accuracy.)
There is literally no reason that I know of for someone to use Chrome instead of Firefox. I've used both. They both perform roughly the same and function roughly the same.
The only differences that I've found are that Chrome works faster on Google web sites, and Firefox is more configurable.
So what? So a big company mines my data. Big deal?
Yes, it is a big deal. Not just because surveillance changes people's behavior.
After the Snowden revelations, traffic to Wikipedia articles on topics that raise privacy concerns for internet users decreased significantly. Another research project found that people’s Google searches changed significantly after users realised what the NSA looked for in their online activity.
I'm sure that most of these people had "nothing to hide", yet they changed their behavior anyway, and that's bad for society in general. Now imagine a world without privacy. It's not a world I would want to live in.
Google products being tools of mass surveillance shouldn't be a surprise to anyone considering where Google comes from.
In 1995, one of the first and most promising MDDS grants went to a computer-science research team at Stanford University with a decade-long history of working with NSF and DARPA grants. The primary objective of this grant was “query optimization of very complex queries that are described using the ‘query flocks’ approach.” A second grant—the DARPA-NSF grant most closely associated with Google’s origin—was part of a coordinated effort to build a massive digital library using the internet as its backbone. Both grants funded research by two graduate students who were making rapid advances in web-page ranking, as well as tracking (and making sense of) user queries: future Google cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
The research by Brin and Page under these grants became the heart of Google: people using search functions to find precisely what they wanted inside a very large data set. The intelligence community, however, saw a slightly different benefit in their research: Could the network be organized so efficiently that individual users could be uniquely identified and tracked?
Yes, if the NSA wants to watch you there is little that you can do about it.
But then there is something called "low-hanging fruit".
If you do nothing to protect yourself then you will be among the very first ones to be "plucked".