Google Knows About You
By Tyler Durden
Clearing House -
Earlier, we reported the
personal narrative of Michele Catalano who recounted how one
day she found herself face to face with six agents from the
joint terrorism task force. The reason? "Our seemingly innocent,
if curious to a fault, Googling of certain things was creating a
perfect storm of terrorism profiling. Because somewhere
out there, someone was watching. Someone whose job it
is to piece together the things people do on the internet raised
the red flag when they saw our search history."
answer of "who" was watching should be far clearer in the
aftermath of the Snowden revelations from the past two months.
But instead of rehashing the old story of the NSA intercepting
and recording virtually every form of electronic communication
that exists, or ruminating on what filters Ms. Catalano
triggered to lead to this truly disturbing outcome, perhaps a
better question is just what is it that Google knows
about each and everyone who uses its interface daily,
which in this day and age means everyone with a computer.
As it turns out, pretty much everything.
the thought, and not so "thought" experiment that the
WSJ's Tom Gara ran yesterday, before Ms. Catalano's story
had hit, to uncover just how rich his informational tapestry is
in the repositories of the firm that once upon a time urged
itself, rhetorically, to "not be evil."
run through a little thought experiment.
Imagine there’s a list somewhere that contains every single
webpage you have visited in the last five years. It also has
everything you have ever searched for, every address you
looked up on Google GOOG +1.86% Maps, every email you sent,
every chat message, every YouTube video you watched. Each
entry is time-stamped, so it’s clear exactly, down to the
minute, when all of this was done.
imagine that list is all searchable. And imagine it’s on a
clean, easy-to-use website. With all that imagined, can you
think of a way a hacker, with access to this, could use it
And once you’ve
imagined all that, go over to google.com/dashboard, and see
it all become reality.
piece complementing today’s story on Google and privacy by
the WSJ’s Amir Efrati, I took a deep dive into Google
Dashboard, a kind of Grand Central Terminus for all the
information the company has stored on you. It’s a truly
amazing amount, especially if, like me, you have been a
heavy Gmail user since its launch in 2004. As long as you
are logged into Gmail, or any other Google account, the
company isn’t just keeping track of how you use its own
service — it’s noting every site you visit on the web.
Here’s a snapshot of
the kind of data we found on my Google Dashboard, put
together as a graphic for today’s newspaper. It includes my
64,019 Google searches, and 134,966 Gmail conversations:
The snapshot in question:
Gara's purely theoretical ruminations continue:
idea that all of this data exists as a mass of ones and
zeros deep in a server farm in California, being studied by
disinterested robots to serve up better search results and
more relevant ads, is something most of us can process in
the fact that it is all viewable right now, on a
user-friendly Web page complete with its own search service
(yes, you can run Google searches on your own web history),
is something else entirely. For example, I searched for
every website I’ve ever visited containing the word
“octopus.” And yes, the results were wonderful.
Of course, if somebody else managed to access
my Google Dashboard — and the chances of this happening are
well above zero — they could search for things far less
innocent than an eight-tentacled sea creature. The bad
possibilities seem endless, from digital blackmail to much
deeper forms of identity theft.
joint terrorism task force agents showing up on your front step
just because you googled "pressure cookers."
Because it is not just the NSA, and its downstream enforcement
tentacles, that has open access to the informational nexus that
is Google and its "Don't be evil" creed.
So does the FBI.
WSJ is again on the trail.
Law-enforcement officials in the U.S. are expanding the use
of tools routinely used by computer hackers to gather
information on suspects, bringing the criminal wiretap into
the cyber age.
Federal agencies have largely kept quiet about these
capabilities, but court documents and interviews with people
involved in the programs provide new details about the
hacking tools, including spyware delivered to computers and
phones through email or Web links—techniques more commonly
associated with attacks by criminals.
familiar with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's programs
say that the use of hacking tools under court orders has
grown as agents seek to keep up with suspects who use new
communications technology, including some types of online
chat and encryption tools. The use of such communications,
which can't be wiretapped like a phone, is called "going
dark" among law enforcement.
spokeswoman for the FBI declined to comment.
The FBI develops some hacking tools
internally and purchases others from the private sector.
With such technology, the bureau can remotely activate the
microphones in phones running Google Inc.'s Android software
to record conversations, one former U.S. official said. It
can do the same to microphones in laptops without the user
knowing, the person said.
Google declined to comment.
more but the gist is clear: all those seemingly ridiculous
surveillance methods used by Jack Bauer and countless other
fictional characters... they were all too real.
real, in fact, as the Big Brother predicted by George Orwell so
many years ago. And just as real, although we will need another
Edward Snowden to reveal it, as the modern-day equivalent of
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