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You might have heard about Google’s intention to give worldwide authorities wider access to the personal details of account holders.

This is supposedly an effort to counter terrorism The War Against ISIS Online - Is Your Security At Risk? The War Against ISIS Online - Is Your Security At Risk? Anonymous claim to be targeting ISIS websites, alerting many to the fact that the terrorists have an online presence. But how are they being fought? And what should you do if you discover ISIS online? Read More . Giving secret services better access to everyone’s private data means an increased chance of catching terrorists Crime, Terrorism, and Security: The Dark Side of Social Media Crime, Terrorism, and Security: The Dark Side of Social Media Social media isn't just cat memes and prank videos. Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr users can just as easily run into darker material distributed by technologically-skilled terrorist groups. What should you do about it? Read More and stopping atrocities.

Or at least that’s how it appears.

Because Google is actually helping us by ensuring our data is more secure by overthrowing a decades-old bill.

How’s It Being Reported

Google has stuck its head above the parapet, and spoken about data sharing. Naturally, this has resulted in the technology giant receiving considerable grief about privacy policies.

google increase data access article

The company urged an update in the storage and sharing of personal information abroad; soon after, it hit the headlines for apparently wanting increased government access to the stuff that should be kept secret. Like so many other policies, this was blamed on the war against terror. That’s why bills such as the “Snooper’s Charter” How the UK's Snooper's Charter Could Affect the Whole World How the UK's Snooper's Charter Could Affect the Whole World The Investigatory Powers Bill, better known as the "Snooper's Charter", is here. You might think it only affects the UK, but you'd be wrong. This affects everyone, across the whole world. Read More are passed. It’s why intelligence services like the National Security Agency (NSA) frown at the encryption employed by WhatsApp Why WhatsApp's End-to-End Encryption Is a Big Deal Why WhatsApp's End-to-End Encryption Is a Big Deal WhatsApp recently announced that they would be enabling end-to-end encryption in their service. But what does this mean for you? Here's what you need to know about WhatsApp encryption. Read More .

That’s largely because it works. The majority of the general public accept some regulation is necessary. Digital Citizens Alliance recently encouraged [PDF]:

“Digital platforms should seek out opportunities to collaborate with law enforcement, cybersecurity experts, consumer protection groups, and civil rights organizations to explore a new approach to protect consumers.”

One article on the subject specifically warned that, if Google gets its way, governments would be able to read the personal information of account holders across the globe faster than ever before.

Right now, the process of governments getting a warrant and subsequently requesting data from foreign agencies can take months. If officials do listen to Google’s June 2017 statement, it would mean the process of requesting data from overseas would be streamlined by effectively bypassing the need for the middle man (i.e. the U.S. government).

This might be technically true, but is only half the story.

What Actually Happened

Yes, Google appealed to law enforcers to make such processes quicker, which would potentially aid in stopping terror attacks. No, that’s not entirely indicative of a laissez-faire attitude to privacy.

Google doesn’t want to increase access to data. It just makes it more efficient. What’s the point in governments requiring data to intercept suspects if it’ll only arrive so long after the event?

Still, the media is largely missing the big story here: Google is actually increasing the security of your private details by calling for better protection worldwide!

people protest spying and privacy
Image Credit: Fibonacci Blue via Flickr

At the speech in Washington D.C., Google’s senior vice president, Kent Walker, urged the White House to amend outdated telecommunication rules that allow government departments to access details stored on servers in other countries.

The important thing is, he wants only countries committed to baseline privacy, human rights, and due process rules to be able to share private information.

It’s actually an effort to make sure your data isn’t compromised by anyone with malicious intent. Dictatorial regimes, for example, wouldn’t be able to gain access to your information; such baseline standards, argued Walker, would ensure better digital privacy measures around the world.

However, what this would actually entail wasn’t specified.

And this isn’t just fighting a theoretical issue. Google has been waging a more private battle with the US after its government tried to use the Stored Communications Act to acquire data stored overseas. As the information stored by Google is split across numerous servers, it would affect everyone with an account.

What Regulations Exist Now?

As it stands, data stored in foreign territories can be acquired using a mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT), which involves a formal request for data followed by the respective authority obtaining a domestic warrant on the behalf of the other country. Google’s suggestion would mean warrants are only adhered to in the appropriate conditions.

It’s actually been backed up by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, in their denouncement of the EU-US Privacy Shield.

This is framework for sharing data between the U.S. and countries in the E.U., but it’s far from perfect. In a letter to the European Commission, the two groups noted:

“[T]he United States of America (United States) does not ensure a level of fundamental rights protection regarding the processing of personal data that is essentially equivalent to that guaranteed within the European Union (EU).”

The EU-US Privacy Shield was a replacement to Safe Harbor, intended to stop American surveillance affecting European residents.

Google’s proposal would supersede the Privacy Shield, and widen its parameters to all nations intending to collect and collaborate sensitive data on citizens.

What Can You Do?

Much of this is out of our hands, but vocal support for greater privacy protections is a good start, which might mean looking into the folk fighting on your behalf Who Is Fighting On Your Behalf Against The NSA And For Privacy? Who Is Fighting On Your Behalf Against The NSA And For Privacy? There are several Internet activism groups who are fighting on your behalf for privacy. They are doing their best to educate netizens as well. Here are just a few of them that are incredibly active. Read More .

Another issue you may find after learning this is simply how much information Google actually has about you Five Things Google Probably Knows About You Five Things Google Probably Knows About You Read More . You don’t have to use Gmail — Google has your browsing history! And Incognito Mode doesn’t even keep you entirely anonymous 4 Ways You Can Be Tracked When In Private Browsing 4 Ways You Can Be Tracked When In Private Browsing Private browsing is private in 99% of cases, but there are many ways in which it can be circumvented, thanks to browser extensions and hacks. Some of them don't even need all that much work. Read More .

You could consider not using Google search at all This Is Why You Should Stop Using Google Search This Is Why You Should Stop Using Google Search Google has unrivaled access to your browsing habits. Giving everything to Google isn't such a good idea. Here are some excellent Google alternatives that still get the job done. Read More anymore. Ah, but what can you use instead? Secure browsers that don’t track you 4 Anonymous Web Browsers That Are Completely Private 4 Anonymous Web Browsers That Are Completely Private A good way to protect your information on the web is to surf anonymously. Google Chrome’s Incognito mode can help to an extent, but you should also look at the following web browsers. Read More are available, or you might prefer the easy option: DuckDuckGo. The search engine is a private service, so won’t keep your browsing history data on file. Your browser will store that data, though, depending on your settings.

As an added bonus, you won’t be bombarded with personalized ads. Heck, there are loads of benefits 8 Search Tricks That Work on DuckDuckGo but Not on Google 8 Search Tricks That Work on DuckDuckGo but Not on Google Google Search is king. But DuckDuckGo has earned a loyal fan following. It has a few unusual features that even Google doesn't have. Read More beyond just staying anonymous.

Still, it seems harsh to penalize Google for having the courage to stand up for the rights of users.

Google: A Force for Good?

So, is Google a friend of privacy advocates? Yes… and no.

caution cyber spies
Image Credits: Kieran Lamb via Flickr

We must praise any major company that openly fights for the privacy rights of us all. It’s no great shock that data sharing between countries is standard and necessary, so this is a positive step.

But that’s not to say that Google doesn’t frequently give in to requests to share personal information about its users. In the first six months of 2015, for example, Google caved into around 78 percent of the 12,002 requests from U.S. law enforcers — that is to say, the firm shared data following about 93,600 requests.

Does this give you some peace of mind in Google’s ability to keep your details secure? Or the exact opposite? Have you given up on Google after fears for your rights?

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  1. Data_Slave
    August 20, 2017 at 7:40 pm

    Do you know any terrorist attack is prevented by harvesting people's data? Paris, Nice, Barcelona, Boston, Berlin, Istanbul and many other terrorist attacks prevented by data farmers? "No" So what?
    I surely know we are going to a dark future more darker than 1984. Government are just being obsolete by giant IT companies. Just we need is to support opensource.

  2. fcd76218
    August 18, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    "Google" and "privacy" are mutually exclusive terms. In spite of its Mr. Nice Guy guise, Google has collected and continues to collect any and all data on as many people as it can. Whether they have an Internet connection or not, does not matter. Google scrapes up information about people from even the most obscure databases.

    Firefox is not a Google product as we all know. However, I know of at least five about:config settings that allow Firefox to send browser data to Google. Are there similar settings in other browsers such as Edge and Safari? Any browser based on Chrome/Chromium, by definition, is sending data back to Google.

    In the name of "fighting terrorism" we are being deprived of more and more privacy every day. Putting a video camera on every lamp post and telephone pole in the country and in every room in every building in the country would ostensibly greatly increase the government's chances of uncovering terrorists. Whether a move like that would actually prevent terrorist acts like Barcelona, Paris, London and many others is highly debatable. What it would do, though, is to give the government such an iron grip over the population as was never dreamt of by even the most oppressive regimes to exist up to now. The world of '1984' would seem like a paradise in comparison.