Google’s Gotcha

15 ways Google monitors you.

An ad for Google's Gmail.
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[See Photos: Google's High-Tech Internet Glasses.]

Is all this tracking legal? Here is what a Google executive might say: "We are protected by our Terms of Service agreement, which in turn incorporates our Privacy Policy – legally binding contracts that are easy to access on our website. We realize that almost no one has ever read these documents, but, hey, no one ever reads their mortgage documents or credit card contracts either, and they're certainly valid. Our agreement states that when you use any of our products or services – even if you're not aware you are using them – you agree to let us track you. It's that simple."

In other words – silly you – you gave Google permission to track you simply by engaging in activities that allowed it to track you.

The terms of service agreement also says that the information you give the company "and those we work with" (who's that, exactly?) can be used for almost any purpose. And the privacy policy states that Google can share your dossier with just about any individual or agency based on the company's "good faith belief" that doing so is required by law or, incredibly, that doing so will "protect…the rights, property or safety of Google."

In other words, piss us off and we can release a dossier about you as thick as a phone book (figuratively speaking). Could such a contract be valid – one that is all at once so invisible to users and so maddeningly all-encompassing or even threatening? This is for judges and regulators to decide in coming years.

In the mean time, I guess Google's ... well, you know.

  • Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Probable Cause Be Required for Police to Use Cell Phone Location Data?
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