Google and the cost of "free"
Do you use Google Search, Gmail, Google Docs or Google Drive?
Google is watching, always watching!
Google’s products are easy to use and helpful, e.g. Google Search, Maps, Docs, Drive and Google Apps for Education. The “free!” price makes Google solutions hard to resist for individuals, cities, towns and schools on limited budgets. It is important to understand Google’s commercial goals, however, to understand the full implications of this ‘free’ stuff. As my mother often said, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
What you actually agree to with Google will probably be surprising. Did you know that you give Google a complete license to any document, photo or data you create, send, receive or store via Gmail, Google Docs and Google Drive? You also give anyone Google works with the same license -- meaning any company, person, organization or government.
Think about the implications for a minute. That business plan, spreadsheet, article or new product idea that you sent via Gmail? The intimate letter and photo to your husband/wife or girlfriend/boyfriend that you backed up on Google Drive? You gave Google (and anyone they work with) a complete, perpetual license.
This has become an important topic with the Town of Wayland and Wayland Public Schools -- which uses Google Apps for Education. Education Week recently discovered that Google was mining student emails, for example. We are coordinating with Education Week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Massachusetts ACLU to encourage Google to clarify their contracts and privacy terms. So far, three letters have been sent to Google via FedX, with no reply from any Google employee. We will keep you posted.
Google Terms of Service - 2.9.2016.pdf
Free solutions from Google - agreement review by MPP - v2c - 2.24.2016.pdf
Google_privacy_policy_en - 8.19.2015.pdf
Let us know if you have any questions: WaylandCPI@Verizon.net
Wayland Computer Privacy Initiative
Curiosity question: Do you have any examples of where Google actually took content from their servers and used it? Their statement assures you that whatever you put on their drives remains yours: "You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.. I'm not sure how to interpret this in the context of their rights to search your content in order to provide relevant ad content. Further, while their lawyers have put some scary words in there about them having the right to use, host, store (etc.) such content, they also say The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. which seem to imply that the only thing they can do is maybe use some idea you have to make a better search engine (or some other Google service, present or future). Not sure I understand exactly what this means, but for the most part, if you're putting things up on Google, there's no reason you should do that without either encrypting, password protecting, or otherwise preventing others from reading what you've got. There's an awful lot of "big brother" paranoia out there, and I'm not saying it's all wrong, but I'm not convinced that this is really as big an issue as you make it out to be?
Dear Carl: Thanks for your questions.Here is some additional info:
Examples of Google's use of your data: You can easily see how Google uses your data by watching the advertisements that appear in hundreds of third-party web pages, after you search for or purchase something. I was looking for a chainsaw last winter, for example, and was bombarded with ads for chainsaws over the next few months, driven by Google's AdSense service. See: https://www.google.com/adsense/start/how-it-works/ More troubling than simple ads: all of the other ways Google and their business partners can use your data, known only to them. This highlights Google's core business: they want to build a detailed personal profile for each person based on everything you search for, create, store and send via a Google app, e.g. Gmail, Google Maps, Google Store, Google Play, Google Docs, Google Drive, etc.
Google even mined student data: Education Week and the Electronic Frontier Foundation recently discovered that Google mined student emails and data, in violation of federal law and Google's prior promise not to use student data for commercial purposes. Wayland Public Schools uses Google Apps for Education (GAFE), so our children's data was taken and analyzed by Google. See:
The Massachusetts Privacy Project is trying to encourage Google to clarify their intent in the GAFE agreements. As of 1 March, we have sent five letters to Google executives via FedX, but received no replies. We forwarded our analysis of the Google GAFE agreements to Education Week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Massachusetts ACLU. As a result, school districts across the US have asked for more information.
This is not "Big Brother paranoia". One of the largest and most powerful internet companies just wants your data, in exchange for helpful apps that are "free". We just need to be fully aware of what we give away if we use them.
I hope this is helpful.
Wayland Computer Privacy Initiative
Actually, it doesn't really address the point about them digging into your documents and taking the content for their own use. Using my browsing habits to target ads at me that match my interests doesn't bother me in the least. For the most part, I've become immune to the flashing ads that show up on every single page of every single website. They're so ubiquitous, that I can't even see them any more (and that's a good thing). In reality, I kind of like the fact that they're tailoring ads to what I've looked at since there's a higher probability that I might actually have some interest in the ad! So, if your complaint is that they are grabbing cookies and trying to match up your interests with matching ads, then that's a pretty low price to pay for the value that their tools bring (which, quite honestly, is quite high). As for the student data, again I'm not sure I understand why students are somehow a different population than everyone else. If you're on the internet, then you're in the public, and your age is really not a factor. Students are just people (yes, they are young people, but if they're unaware of what they're doing on the internet and its effects, then someone ought to be supervising them). I'd be a lot more concerned about the phishers and spammers than I am about what ads Google splays on random web pages... but that's just me.
"When students log into Google, whether through Chromebooks or through GAFE, Google collects a huge variety of personal data by default: search history and which results students click on, videos they search for and watch on YouTube, usage data and preferences, Gmail messages, G+ profiles and photos, docs, and other Google-hosted content and content that flows through Google’s systems."
So if Google is willing to do all of this with student data, which is protected by federal law, what won't they do with individual accounts and your data? To your point, Google often refuses to answer these questions; our five unanswered FedX letters are just one example.
Age is very important important in federal and state privacy laws, because a child cannot legally give his / her consent to Google's terms. This is underscored by a number of federal laws that protect the privacy of student data, e.g. FERPA, IDEA and PPRA. Under these laws, school management is required to protect the confidentiality of student data and provide notice to parents. Education IT vendors must comply with these laws and regulations. For more information see:
If you or any adult are unconcerned about data mining and what Google (and anyone they work with) could do with personal letters, documents, photos, emails, business plans, artwork, confidential family information, etc. -- then continue to create, save, send and share with Google.
If you value your privacy and the privacy of your friends, family and children, then Google, Facebook and similar Web services should be a concern. There are alternatives the will protect personal identity and information.
Wayland Computer Privacy Initiative
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