Feelings on Google as a Data Miner

· Internet Data Collection
Authors

I have been exposed a little too much recently to allegations that we should be more frightened of the data collecting abilities of Google than of Facebook.

Well, I cannot comment on the latter, its business model does not give me with anything which I am interested in.

I cannot say the same for Google.  It provides me with information.  It gives me readership.  It is – has anyone said this yet – the Information Highway.  Its competitors do not deliver.

So, am I working in cahoots with Google, and ignoring the charges against it?

Without going into specifics, I have investigated at least one accusation; and reacted to and analyzed another.  True, that’s not very much – unless my analysis is good.

There was the charge that a certain search term did not give prominent results.  To this, I would say that there is more than one way to make the search, and an alternate method couldhave given what was wanted.  I had thought of turning my investigation into an article, but desisted.  Who knows, I figured, maybe this corporate giant had made a mistake, and I am not going to be paid to have them know what it is.  On the other hand, if they are so fearsome with their so-called data collection techniques, then they must have already known that the alternate routes to the search term I was testing was not about to be employed by the average user.

Furthermore, my previous experience with the type of article that I would have been required to write, suggested that it might get little interest.  Also, it may have implied character assassination, which is something that should not be found on my web pages.

Now, the reader may see, from the previous paragraph, that I would not want to be involved in a defamation lawsuit by writing something potentially scurrilous about someone.

As for the legality of what Google does, let that be decided by competent authority!

Here is an anecdote related to supposed censoring of information:

I was at the same place during the attack on the Twin Towers of New York.  There was supposed to be a black-out on a lot of Internet sites. I wanted to know what the Arab sites with pages in English were saying, not excluding the opinion of the Palestinians.

I only remember two things about that. Many sites were blocked. The Palestinian web site, which would have been the most interesting, because of its bad reputation, could not be entered, at least directly.  Whether this is still possible or not, I don’t know, but I entered a web site of a supporter of the Jewish Defense League, which wanted to show the ugly face of racism to its readers.  Through that person’s site, I could enter the Palestinian page.  It was not a hack, just a roundabout way of doing things, such as in the case of the person who claimed that Google was suppressing certain search terms, when it really was just a question of how the search was conducted.

As an aside, people here often have trouble putting in the “@” sign. Sometimes something prevented me from putting it into my e-mail address. As soon as I press the key, I am refused the chance to type the rest of the address.  What was the solution? Don’t type – copy and paste!  But this comment ties in with what I said in the preceding paragraphs, the way to get what someone wants is often not based on some secret system.

I will now make a comparison, to give another reason that the accusations against Google are unfair.

Many people are in jobs they do not like, but keep them, because unemployment is the less desirable option.

It is the same with this search engine provider – if there is none better – and I have seen no evidence that there is, then we must accept it without complaint.

So, does that mean that I appreciate their collecting data on me?

As far as that question goes, my only concern is that I, using a public computer, might have my information mixed with someone else’s.  To tell the truth, I am afraid to find out if this has happened.  I read that erasing some information does not delete the underlying data which was collected.  I have asked a person who meets people at a Latin American office of Google, how it is that I have been placed in locations I have never visited. Perhaps I misinterpreted that this was actually where I was. Perhaps it was the location of someone I contacted.

But if it is about where I have actually been, my ability to deny my stay anywhere out of a very narrow geographical region is in some way related to any data that is collected to supposedly target me for advertisements.

This worry about Google knowing where one is, seems to be quite immature.  In the country where I live, it seems that the police already have their own special software.  True or not, has it occurred to anybody that Google could potentially provide an alibi, should one be accused of being where one wasn’t?  That might not be infallible, if a mobile device could be said to have been at a location not near to that of its user. However, with the unending attachment that people seem to have to their devices, the constant keeping-in-touch would almost make it impossible not to give proof (except in the case of a purloined password) that the owner and the device were not in one and the same location.

Some advertisements I have seen often have been the result of previous users of the computer.  No, I am not interested in a million dollar apartment in Israel. I haven’t learned Turkish yet, so that ad was also inappropriate.  Or why was I given, day after day, an ad of a baby with a moustache, with a possible ethnic slur?

Fortunately, my instincts were good, and once I successfully disconnected from a locally-famous hacker upon suspecting something irregular.  After resetting the computer I was using, he shot a dirty, side-long glance at me, and he went out for a smoke.  I sneaked a look at his screen, and discovered some program which looked highly suspicious.  On the following day, his infamous identity was revealed.  He made the national newspapers for the data manipulation that he had been engaged in. I regret not to be more precise, he might recognize himself, and me, and is thus more of a threat to me than anything that Google could be, if the accusations against the latter were true.

Yet, I ask, has this hacker influenced the kind of advertising I have received, or contaminated the type of data collected on me?

Then there was the nut-job (my policy of not insulting does not apply in this case) who was looking at ISIS material, or so it seemed.  It was challenging not to try to rile him – such a person should be considered unstable in a social setting.  Fortunately, he bothered not only me, but also the  management, so we have never seen him again.

There was an old Iranian – so I was told – who often listened to Persian music.  He was using the computer beside mine.  Did his browsing data commingle with mine?  (Terrible mistake on my part – I thought he was East European!)

So, you may ask, with the concern about the above-mentioned cases, why do I not complain more?

Well, there are of course, two types of essential data collection – that for law enforcement, and that for the business users.

I was once in an Internet Café, from where someone sent a threatening e-mail to a very important person.  The police arrived quite quickly, trying to find the delinquent.  Unfortunately for them, they seemed to have insufficient knowledge of IP addresses, (which were pasted by the counter). To the unsophisticated question as to which machine the perpetrator had sent the message on, the employee could only plead ignorance.  Why was she not given the IP number?  So, the police work in this case was thwarted by lack of preparation in the IT field.

I have already mentioned that location data might actually be a defence, in the case of an unjust accusation.

 

Let’s get back on topic.  How about the advertisements targeted towards me?

I have seen only one or two relative results – if that – one of which was an advertisement for a restaurant within a three-block radius.

Advertising is directed to the consumer.  Were it evident that I am, as the trite expression goes, of the shop-till-you-drop variety (or close to it), there would be a tremendous opportunity to target me.

Unfortunately for the businesses, I am primarily interested in free news, software, and books.  How will they target someone who only wants free things?

There are advertisements on the BBC web site, but the BBC is not sold to me.

A good way to avoid being targeted, if you believe the site is to be trusted, is to use Wikipedia.  I have noticed that while I browse inside of Wikipedia, Google keeps no search history.  I’m sorry for saying this, but I wish they could – sometimes I want a quick link back to one of a number of pages I had been browsing.  Maybe Wikipedia will need to partner up with Google, instead of keeping itself totally free from other influences, if it ends up not getting sufficient donations during its annual campaign.

Using Wikipedia could be convenient, if, for example, you wanted, like I recently did, information about bricks.  A good strategy would be to select a word which could offer nothing more than a book on the subject, let’s say, garlic.  Perhaps you would be offered a cookbook – I don’t know, locally, I got no ads. So, enter Wikipedia through Google after searching for “Wikipedia, garlic”, and in Wikipedia’s own search engine, search for brick.  (I tried searching for brick in the local Spanish version of Google, and got two ads for real estate.)

The preceding shows that you should avoid going into commercial sites for information, unless you believe that you might want to be a client of that specific business establishment.

From what I read, the average user of the Internet probably will have little escape, from having data collected. I understand that very few people, percentage-wise (in spite of a few negative pages) actually have left Facebook.  This suggests an over-all lack of concern.  I might amend that opinion if enough people read this post.

A much more important issue is the over-all security question on the Internet.  Sometimes I read stories that the day may come, when it will be impossible to escape from virus infections, trojans, and the like.

I also find constant innovation to be as bad as any virus.  I am tired of having to relearn everything, I prefer to learn something which was as valid yesterday as today, and will still be so tomorrow.

Microsoft, Google, and other players will find that they will be no longer be able to collect any information about me if that day comes when I am excessively hurt by a harmful programming – and I define that very narrowly.

They will no longer be able to collect information on anybody, if the World Wide Web comes to a stop.  It is in their interest to keep the wheels of the Internet well greased.

In conclusion, as far as this writer is concerned, Google may collect information on me, and feed it to its clients and governments.  But  these Corporations should be concerned that something might happen to me, which would suddenly cut me off from their data-mining.

Excluding, of course, the fact that my “best by” date has passed, which also has certain ramifications.

Will I be given a funeral parlour option, once I am in the spirit, ahem, virtual world?

April 19, 2018

© 2018, Paul Karl Moeller

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