What Does Big Brother Know About You?
Orwell knew the score. He predicted everything. To be honest, maybe it wasn’t that hard to predict. Perhaps it was inevitable, perhaps, it is human nature. For decades we have traded privacy and control for convenience and an illusion of security, and now, just maybe it is starting to show.
The recent Facebook scandal has cast mainstream attention on the depth of the situation. It was feared it would be the government, and maybe to some extent it is, but corporations have been harvesting our personal data for a long time. Long enough that they have everything they will ever need, and most importantly, they’ve been doing it long enough that it is almost impossible to change. Your Google and Facebook accounts can be used as logins for a range of different platforms from which your information can be recorded, analysed and harvested for profit.
As a series of investigatory pieces, I’m going to be looking into how much data some of these big corporations have on us. I will start with Google simply because right now there will be plenty of pieces concentrating on Facebook, and actually I don’t really use Facebook that much. In, what I guess is about 7 years of having a Facebook account, I can count the number of posts on ten fingers; although, I realise that the information gathered from posting is only a fraction of what Facebook collects.
The thing that really scares me is how much I use my Google account without realising. If you’re anything like me, and I’m willing to bet you are, Google has massive amounts of data on you. Everything you have ever googled, whether it was deleted or not, they know. Everywhere you’ve been with your phone, they know. Every app you use, every YouTube video you’ve watched, every event, meeting, or reminder you’ve placed in your calendar, they know.
They know everything.
I’m actually writing this document in Google Docs, so maybe some advanced learning machine has read it before you have. It seems absurd that they would even care, but it is crazy how intertwined our lives have become with this corporation. It’s ridiculous how much knowledge I have given them without even realising.
I got into the habit of using incognito browsers to search for anything that I was a little unsure about. Anything that I wouldn’t particularly want people to know I ’ve been searching for. I don’t even mean the dodgy stuff, more the stupid stuff - ever Googled something embarrassingly basic and obvious just to check you’re right? Google knows.
Your Search History:
Google collects the data from every search you have conducted, whatever the device. All it needs is for you to be logged in to your account on that device; which is actually easier than you think to do. Your Google account spans a variety of different platforms, which of course, is massively convenient, but it means that without even realising you can be giving them your data.
If you’re interested in seeing what Search data they have for, click here.
I never thought it would bother me this much, I don’t have that much to hide, or at least, I didn’t think that I did. Nevertheless, seeing my search history, with the time and date I carried out that search sent shivers down my spine. It isn’t comfortable reading.
Your Location History:
This one set a pretty interesting conversation in motion with my girlfriend. Historical location data, whilst I am not okay with them collecting this, has no real significance for me. But to have my historical location data means they are tracking my current location, which is considerably more unnerving.
One tangent of the conversation went down a bit of a rabbit hole, one which fans of The Black Mirror might appreciate. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that in the future this data might be used in a court of law. If your phone tracks where you are and you were at the scene of a crime with no good reason…
But, what if someone changes the location of your phone. I sat and watched a friend, an avid Pokemon Go player, trick his phone into thinking he was in Bolivia. His intentions were to catch geographic-specific pokemon. All fun and games. Maybe Google knew he was sat in his living room doing this, but maybe not? What if, someone changes your phone data to reflect you were present at a crime scene?
Alright, maybe a crime scene is a bit morbid, maybe the burden of proof for murder is a little too high. But, how many marriages could withstand Google telling them their partner is at a hotel at 1 pm on a Friday and not at the office?
Your YouTube History:
This is a surprising one for me. I rarely use YouTube. Whereas a number of my friends have found YouTube series or vloggers they enjoy, I have not. So I did not expect to find much on here.
I was wrong.
Of course, university me wanted to know how to make a bong from a plastic bottle. I had completely forgotten. Google hadn’t. Sure enough, I looked at my history and there it was, the worst thing about it? I hadn’t even watched enough for it to get buried, it was almost front and centre.
I am pretty blase about this sort of information, I don’t smoke anymore, but I don’t hide the fact that I once did. I'm fine with telling people. Although, it feels entirely different knowing that gaining access to this sort of information is completely out of my hands. A prospective employer could potentially learn of my previous recreational habits and use it to discriminate against me without my knowledge, and what’s worse, it might not even give me the opportunity to refute or explain.
Want to download the ‘entirety’ of the data Google has on you?
Warning: I use ‘entirety’ in inverted commas because I would bet an exorbitant amount on the fact that they have even more, but are unwilling to admit it.
I am in the process of downloading my own Google data right now, and the process takes a long time! They say that it may take hours or even days to prepare the files - which, of course, doesn’t sound shady at all!
When I have finally downloaded my data and combed through it I plan to do another post on the topic, I’m sure having access is going to provide some seriously scary revelations. For now, if you are interested, you can click here to see just how much Google has on you...