The conventional belief that maintaining privacy on the internet takes nothing more than moving to Mars is proving to be more accurate as time goes on. Zappos.com customers are just the latest to discover that the personal data they entrusted to the site has fallen into the hands of nefarious criminals, but not all egregious privacy violations are committed by the black hand of the evil hacker. Google’s recent changes to its search engine have proved that when it comes to keeping your private information private you might be well advised to move out of the Solar System altogether.
Search + Everything You Ever Forgot About
Google’s new Search Plus Your World incorporates content from their social network Google+ as an integral part of your conventional search results. So if you’re searching for “squirrel,” you’ll not only get your usual search results but also a link to a photo of your uncle getting bitten by a squirrel, and the time your BFF asked you to squirrel away some booze for them. The fact that these items were clearly marked as private won’t stop them from being shown in your search result, with the only indicator of its status being a small gray note that it’s listed as being “Limited.”
Google+, Facebook and the rest of the social network gang have long had extensive privacy safeguards in place to absolutely ensure that any content that you deem as strictly private stays that way. The failure in many observers’ viewpoints, however, is that this status should be a default parameter rather than expecting the user to take specific actions in order to ensure that a particular bit of content is identified as private and thus protected.
Ah, That Drunken Half-Naked Party Photo!
You might ask if you are part of the circle and you have access to this content anyway, what’s the big deal about getting it in your search results? As in the case of Facebook’s Timeline, a drunken half-naked party animal photo plunked onto the site to get your lolz way back in the dawn of social media can resurface to significantly embarrass your now more staid and respectable professional self. How many people online are 100% certain that absolutely everything that they have posted on social networks should be readily accessible by everyone they know?
Privacy Settings Are Daunting to Navigate
There are more than 100 billion photos on Facebook alone, with another 10 million being uploaded every hour. It is unreasonable to expect that every single one of these photos, which could conceivably contain content not exactly suitable for public dispersal, let alone advisable to share with a global audience, has been duly locked down in a privacy mode that many users find daunting to navigate. For example, to keep your Google+ profile from appearing in an autocomplete list, all you have to do is click Edit profile; on the About tab, click the Profile discovery section; uncheck Help others discover my profile; then…
Complaint Filed with the FTC
The privacy concerns over this new feature are not limited to bloggers trying to conjure up the Mountain View boogeyman to boost their readership. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is considering filing a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that Google’s new search results violate privacy and constitute “a problem the FTC needs to look at closely.” EPIC claims that “although data from a user’s Google+ contacts is not displayed publicly, Google’s changes make the personal data of users more accessible. Users can opt out of seeing personalized search results, but cannot opt out of having their information found through Google search.”
If all of this has you discombobulated, keep in mind that Kepler 22B is just 600 light years away and is supposed to have a temperate environment… as well as being way out of Wi-Fi range…