It seems there’s no escaping Google.
What started out as two students’ research project has transformed into a multi-billion dollar corporation that offers a wide variety of services while also trying to find a foothold in nearly every aspect of our lives.
In the year 2015, Google is no longer just a search engine. Today, Chrome boasts upwards of a billion users, making it the most widely used web browser today.
Gmail has become one of the most popular and versatile email clients, particularly among colleges, businesses, and freelancers. Google offers a word processor, slideshow creator, and spreadsheet program that puts Microsoft’s Office to shame.
Google has found its place in smart phones, cloud storage, mapping services, and now even a self-driving car.
One can hardly browse the Internet without coming across websites featuring some sort of Google service or product. Be it the option of allowing you to log into a site automatically with your Gmail or Google+ account, or even ads through Google Adsense, Google’s reach has expanded into most corners of the web.
All in all, Google is a great company leading our society into the future. Google has done what many companies strive for and only a few have accomplished — consistently rising to the occasion to meet new demands from its users, while also earning the trust of the masses.
Why not trust Google? The company clearly knows what it’s doing; why else would the company’s services pop up on almost every website? You can’t hate a company that references pop culture.
Clearly, Google cares about its user base and is absolutely trustworthy.
… Or is it?
After all, it’s not like Google hides the fact that their automated systems scan your emails and certain cookies in Chrome allow them to track and collect your browsing data. Most users just don’t think it’s a big problem.
What Do You Mean, Google Collects My Browsing Data?
Here’s the thing: in this day and age, we can’t exactly go about naively trusting that online companies have our best interests at heart. At the end of the day, they are still companies trying to make a profit. At its core, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s only natural and fair for people and companies who offer services and products to want to receive compensation.
Google doesn’t charge users for many of its services. Many are offered freely to users, such as Gmail, Chrome, and Drive.
But, how do you provide a free service while still making money? Some websites are financed from donations, but that’s not always an option. Advertisements are responsible for a large portion of income for many online companies, but they are nothing like the goldmine that is selling their users’ information, and Google’s services have a lot of users.
See, if you’re using a service and you’re not paying for anything, you’re probably not the customer. You’re probably the product being sold instead. As Chris Hoffman explained, your information is increasingly being collected and stored in databases to create a sort of ‘profile’ of you, and you’d be surprised by what Google may already know about you. This information is often shared and combined with information gathered about you that’s stored in other databases, thus allowing advertisers to create an accurate and detailed profile of you.
What better way to learn your interests and priorities than by examining your web browsing habits? Google has already come out saying that ads in Chrome are tailored to you, based on what websites you’ve visited or what you’ve searched.
This is just the first step for the mass adoption of customized advertisements, and Google is already getting a head start and making a fortune providing our information to advertisers. Of course, if you’re not really concerned about privacy and looking to make some extra money, you can sell your information yourself. Of course, you likely won’t be pulling in nearly as much as a company like Google would.
What About When I Go Incognito?
Incognito Mode on Chrome really only serves one purpose — it keeps browsing history and website cookies from being stored on your computer, but only after the window is closed. It doesn’t mean websites can’t track your IP. It doesn’t mean your connection is any more encrypted.
What you search will still be tracked by Google. Incognito Mode will not prevent that.
But the Data They Collect is Just Sold to Advertisers, Right?
Not all of it.
Certain user data is sold, but much of it is used for Google’s own purposes. If you so choose, Google will receive usage statistics and crash reports from you. While the information gathered for this purpose is meant to be non-identifying, it still contains system information and what actions led up to the crash.
If ordered to do so, Google will have little issue handing over your data directly to the government. If there is a warrant for your browsing history or accounts, Google will not protect you.
They can’t, legally, and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act makes it fairly simple for the US government to gain access to someone’s browser history, even without a warrant. However, Google insists that they will only honor a request for information under certain circumstances, and will seek to narrow a request if they feel it is too broad, based on legal requirements and Google’s policies.
Is Chrome a Secure Browser?
Sort of. It’s more secure than Internet Explorer, at least.
With recent security breaches on several store websites, there’s been a push for companies operating online to beef up their security. But websites are still being hacked into and millions of people are at risk of having their private information like addresses and credit card numbers accessed for nefarious purposes every day.
Sometimes, hackers can even gain control of your computer after you’ve been exposed to a compromised website. Google does provide defense against using sandbox tabs. Simply put, these prevent any processes in browser tabs from affecting critical memory functions in any way.
Certain protocols like SPDY provide an extra layer of defense on the sites that have it enabled. SPDY requires SSL, a security encryption protocol, meaning that sites with this protocol are more secure than sites that only use HTTP. Only 2.8% of the internet has SPDY enabled, so while it doesn’t make a huge difference in the big picture, it is reassuring that Google’s services have that extra layer of security.
Can We Trust Google’s Dedication to Chrome’s Reliability?
So far, yes. Google has a good thing going here with Chrome and isn’t likely to just abandon a userbase of a billion people. They have incentive to put a lot of resources into developing the latest technology to keep Chrome competitive.
Chrome uses SPDY rather than HTTP on Google services or certain other websites like Twitter. The SPDY protocol, designed by Google, was created with the intent to reduce web page latency. Web page latency is a huge problem with HTTP and the slow loading times can be a pain when trying to browse certain websites.
Other browsers now use SPDY as well, such as Mozilla Firefox and Safari. However, SPDY was originally designed by Google and released to the public. This only adds to Google’s reputation as a company of inventors and innovators.
Chrome already has a reputation for being one of the best browsers available to users, based on stability and security. Google is quick to patch vulnerabilities in each released version as they are discovered.
Google is also likely to continue to invest in developing new technologies for both browsing and security, and we can expect maintaining and improving Chrome to be a long-term priority.
Can We Really Trust Google to Stay Around for the Long Term?
I recall sitting in an economics class many years ago listening to a teacher talk about why he had foolishly decided not to invest in Google in 2004. His financial advisor had tried to convince him, but he declined, as several other early Internet companies had tried to start up and simply failed.
Shares were initially sold for $85, but their value soon skyrocketed. Some employees were becoming millionaires overnight. Not investing, he said, was a mistake he would always regret.
Today, Google is worth about $350 billion. Its shares are going for about $660 each at the time of this writing. Despite the usual ups and downs of share prices, Google’s worth has been steadily on the rise for several years now, with shares recently hitting a record high back in July at $699.62.
S&P has given Google a credit rating of AA. For comparison, the United States’ rating is AA+. This hints at a high level of economic trust placed in Google, which isn’t surprising based on its steady success and growth since 2009.
Google survived the 2008 financial crisis and bounced back stronger than ever. It may indeed be possible to trust, at least, that this is one corporation that won’t disappear without a fight.
Is Google Evil?
That’s for you to decide. It depends on what your personal definition of evil is. You could say Google is an example of capitalism and the free market system at its finest — what started out as the research project of two PhD students has transformed into a multi-billion dollar international corporation in a matter of years that consistently meets consumers’ needs.
You could also say that Google is a greedy soul-sucking corporation that cares more about large profits than the privacy of its users.
Unfortunately, this may just be how online companies of the future operate. The anonymity granted to us by the internet is swiftly disappearing.
Sure, new laws struggling to catch up to modern day technology are playing a role in this change, but the biggest influence is large corporations like Google who see putting a name and profile to a user as a potential source of revenue. As long as our data is worth money, companies are going to be trying to what they can.
Can Google Really Be Trusted?
No corporation can be completely trusted. Google is no exception to this. Sure, Google can be trusted to keep Chrome secure and well-maintained, and Google can also be trusted to be around for the next few years. But that’s it.
But we can’t trust Google to keep our information private. We can’t trust that our emails won’t be scanned by their automated systems, or any of our documents in the cloud won’t disappear. We can’t even completely trust Google to not disable our accounts at will.
With how expansive its presence is on the Internet, boycotting the company isn’t an option for most users. We can try to avoid sending as much information as possible to Google, such as by using a different browser and search engine, among other methods. But our anonymity on the internet is slipping away, and Google is only contributing to that.
If the idea of Google collecting your information while you use Chrome is unsettling, you can always make the switch to Mozilla’s Firefox, which is opensource. Or, there are other ways to reduce the information Google can access regarding your browsing habits.
Google — nefarious or actually trustworthy? Here to stay, or just a blip in the timeline of what’s sure to be an incredible digital age? Leave a comment below and tell me what you think!