Thursday, April 17, 2014

No Privacy: Google Is Greedier Than Ever

Around early 2000 Google coined the informal 'Don't Be Evil' motto to show the company was different from its competitors who were kind of exploiting users to some extend. The slogan is no longer true but thanks to great PR it is the image most people have of Google even today.

Recently Google changed the default checkbox setting for your Google account to "Stay signed in." supposedly for your convenience but Google's safety recommendations make that hard to believe.

Google's core business is collecting and selling information, yours and mine. In return we get a free search engine, blogging software, e-mail and Google maps. All of it is not really free of course. We pay for it whenever we buy something.

In 2012 Google combined the privacy policy of its many products into a single privacy policy stating user-friendliness. Rule no 1 of 'Don't Be Evil' should be honesty because the real reason for the changes was to make it easier for Google to track you.
“What Google really wants is for everybody to be signed in to their Google accounts all the time,” a Google insider told Quartz last month.
Recently I noticed whenever I login to my blog the "Stay signed in" checkbox is checked by default. Clearly Google did not like the number of people who signed out. When you hover over the text a pop-up appears:
"For your convenience, keep this ticked. On shared devices, additional precautions are recommended. Learn more"
Personally I think it is inconvenient because I like to keep my kink separated from my vanilla. When I clicked 'Learn more' I found out what Google's definition of convenience really means.
"If you're signing in to your Google Account from a device that only you use (for example, a personal laptop), we recommend leaving the "Stay signed in" checkbox selected. This ensures that you won’t be constantly interrupted to re-enter your password and makes your future sign-ins easier with account choosers."
 What I read was: "We are not going to make it easy for you to sign out." It gets even better:
"For shared devices (a computer at an Internet cafe, for example), we still recommend that you leave the checkbox selected, but here are our recommendations to help make sure you sign in securely:"
Either they assume nobody reads it or Google really does not care about our safety. How else can you justify leaving the checkbox selected in an internet cafe? Their PR people must have thought the same thing so they added a few hilarious tips.
"Devices used by lots of people
Examples: Computers at libraries or internet cafes
Public computers, if well-maintained, automatically clear a user’s web history and cookies. If you’re unsure, we recommend that you use the private browsing feature of the browser. If private browsing isn’t available, clear the browser’s history, cache, and cookies before and after you use the device."
In order to make it easier for Google to collect data on you everybody has to become a security expert. How is anybody to know whether or not a computer is well-maintained, which by the way is not the same thing as automatically clearing a user's web history and cookies? Of course people will be unsure but how many people can find the private browser settings. Probably the same number of people that can clear the browser's cache, cookies and history. You have to do it before and after you use the device, in case the person before you forgot...

I wonder what Google's definition of a well-maintained public computer is, because some public computers definitely do not allow you to change settings. There is a reason for that.
"Devices shared with a few people
Examples: Family computer
If you only plan to use the device briefly, such as when visiting a friend or relative, we suggest using private browsing.
If you plan to use the device often (say, for example, it’s your family computer), then we suggest creating a user profile either in the operating system or in the browser so you can keep your information private from other users. We recommend you leave the "Stay signed in" checkbox selected to take advantage of Account Chooser and longer sessions. Learn how to add user profiles on an Android device or in Chrome."
 I do not think there are many people who like others to change their computer settings. On the family computer Google recommends user profiles. There are a lot of people who do not like the Windows user accounts but Google is forcing it upon them anyway. The suggestion to keep your information private on a family computer is wrong. Families should decide for themselves and I am not just talking good parenting.
No matter how cumbersome the "Stay signed in" checkbox is, Google tries to force it upon us once again by pointing out the advantages of Account chooser and longer sessions.
"If none of these security options are available to you, we strongly suggest you do not sign in to your Google Account. If you do sign in, we recommend deselecting the "Stay signed in" checkbox in case you forget to sign out."
Because Google is more greedy than ever for your personal information they suggest not to sign in to  your Google account if their so-called security options are not available rather than change the default settings for the checkbox.
A few years ago I was in Asia during monsoon season. One afternoon I hid from the rain in an internet cafe. I was worried about my security mainly because there were unshielded electricity wires on the floor next to the water.

Finally recommend deselecting the "Stay signed in" checkbox in case you forget to sign out feels like an insult, but who reads the fine print anyway?

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