Google Pushing Privacy Legislation?
At least that’s the claim according to an article on The Standard. Thing is, given Google’s penchant for collecting and archiving every bit of data about anything and their recent acquisition of Doubleclick, it’s hard to balance all this talk (and even some action) about privacy legislation against the fact that Google is extremely interested in tracking people’s online behavior so that they can deliver targeted ads.
For example, if you’re searching the web for information about fibromyalgia, then the advertising on those result pages will be relevant to that subject. If you’re reading a web page or blog entry that’s about engine repairs on a ’68 corvette then any Adsense blocks on that page will contain advertising that’s relevant to that topic. In addition to cookies, many sites also use “web bugs”, little 1 by 1 pictures that are only a single pixel that they can track the IP address and browser information for every person that loads the page it’s on.
The privacy issue that grows out of this is what happens when say an insurance company manages (by whatever means, legal or otherwise) to get access to information about what you’ve been searching and the websites you’ve been visiting. This could let them know that you’re looking for information about a particular medical condition and I think it’s pretty obvious that if they know or suspect you have or are developing a some kind of problem that your rates could go up or you could suddenly find that your coverage is limited… just short of the condition that you’ve been researching.
All in all, I think that the best thing to do is not rely on Google, Yahoo, or any other search engine or advertising company to protect your privacy. Instead, protect it yourself. Set your web browser to delete cookies at the end of the session.
Use things like Firefox’s ability to establish rules for each site that wants to set a cookie, whether to allow it, allow for session, or block it outright and block advertising cookies while allowing the ones that you need for site logins and preferences information for websites you use.
The rule of thumb should be “only allow the cookies that are absolutely necessary for the site to work and only give the minimum information required in any situation.” Your privacy is ultimately your responsibility and you have to actively work to maintain it. I hope Google *DOES* push for better privacy legislation and that GOOD privacy laws do get passed, but I’m not going to bet the farm on it happening.
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