Google’s Users are the Real Commodities – Pt. 2

A Monthlong Magnification of Google: the Company, the Technologies, and the Extracurricular Activities

As we saw in Part 1 of Google’s Users are the Real Commodities, Google has their name on a lot of the online products and services we use every day. And, we are offering up our preferences, personal information, interests, the contents of our communications, our search histories and hundreds of details about ourselves as payment for the conveniences Google offers online.

But Google’s reach extends beyond the Google name. Some of the most popular social networking and social media sites are Google owned and Google operated—meaning information about you and your life is recorded when you choose to use sites such as Blogger, Orkut, Picasa and YouTube.

Here’s what information Google collects about you on these popular social media and social networking sites:

Blogger

When you create a blog with Blogger, your account information, copies of your blog posts, drafts of your blog posts and comments to posts are “stored and maintained by Google.”(1) If you choose to delete your blog, all of your posts will disappear from view but copies of your profile information and “other” information associated with your account could still exist in Google’s backup system.(2)

When and how often you use Blogger, what information is displayed to you and what information you click on while using Blogger is automatically recorded.(3)

And, when you use Blogger Mobile, Google “will record your phone number when you send a text message, photos, or SMS to or from Google” and may associate the number with your Google account or an account ID.(4) It is important to note that using Blogger Mobile requires you to send text messages, photos or SMS to Google—that is how the service functions. You have no option to use the service without your phone number being recorded.(5)

Orkut

Personal information is required to create an account and personal information such as name, location, relationship status, etc is stored from your Orkut profile.(6)

If you choose to invite a friend to join Orkut from the site, Google will “collect and maintain information associated with those messages, including email addresses and content.”(7)

Orkut allows users to send and receive SMS (Short Message Service) messages from the Orkut site, but “[w]hen you send and receive SMS messages to or from the Orkut website, we collect and maintain information associated with those messages, such as the phone number, the wireless carrier associated with the phone number, the content of the message, and the date and time of the transaction.”(8)

Picasa

Google automatically records information every time you use Picasa: how often you log in, how much you store, date and time of access, the type of browser you use, your IP address, what site you came from when you arrive on the Picasa site, what information is displayed to you, what information you click on, and more.(9)

Google also stores, process and maintains your photos, favorites list and other account information “in order to provide the Picasa Web Albums service to you and to operate and improve our services.”(10) And, according to the Google Privacy Policy, which also applies here, this would indicate that your photos and account information can be used to display “custom content and advertising” based on information collected about you.(11)

YouTube

Google “may record information about your usage, such as when you use YouTube, the channels, groups, and favorites you subscribe to, the contacts you communicate with, the videos you watch, and the frequency and size of data transfers, as well as information you display or click on in YouTube (including UI elements, settings, and other information).” As with most of Google’s products and services, on YouTube, the information collected about you and your site use can be associated with your account if you are logged in to YouTube or your Google account.(12)

YouTube’s Privacy Policy lets users know that they need to read and understand both Google’s Privacy Policy and the YouTube Privacy Policy to get a clear picture of how your information is gathered and used on YouTube.(13) Because YouTube’s data is subject to both Privacy Policies, it appears that any information gathered about you while you use YouTube could be used according to the terms of the Google Privacy Policy, which means the information collected about you could be used to display “customized content and advertising.”(14)

Another interesting note, YouTube’s Privacy Policy lists the third-party advertiser that it maintains a relationship with as DoubleClick.(15) Last month Google announced that it has officially acquired DoubleClick.

The policy also states that “The [third-party] advertiser may also use information regarding your use of the YouTube Sites, such as the number of times you viewed an ad (but not any personally identifiable information), to determine which ads to deliver to you.”(emphasis added)(16)

What does this mean?

For most of us it means that Google knows as much about us as we know about ourselves. If you have ever done a search on Google for something private, blogged anonymously to get things off your chest, stored pictures on Picasa or uploaded videos to YouTube that you haven’t shared elsewhere—Google knows. And, in some cases, Google is using that same information to determine how to customize site content and deliver ads to you.(17)

In our next installment, we’ll pose the question: what does this volume of data collection mean for the future of Google?

1. Blogger Privacy Notice, October 9, 2007, Uses, last visited April 4, 2008.
2. Blogger Privacy Notice, October 9, 2007, Your Choices, last visited April 4, 2008.
3. Blogger Privacy Notice, October 9, 2007, Personal Information, last visited April 4, 2008.
4. Blogger Privacy Notice, October 9, 2007, Personal Information, last visited April 4, 2008.
5. Go Mobile, Blogger Mobile, last visited April 4, 2008.
6. Google Inc. and DoubleClick, EPIC, April 20, 2007; Orkut Privacy Notice, February 29, 2008, last visited April 4, 2008.
7. Orkut Privacy Notice, February 29, 2008, last visited April 4, 2008.
8. Orkut Privacy Notice, February 29, 2008, last visited April 4, 2008.
9. Picasa Privacy Notice, July 27, 2007, Personal Information, last visited April 4, 2008.
10. Picasa Privacy Notice, July 27, 2007, Uses, last visited April 4, 2008.
11. Google Privacy Policy, October 14, 2005, Information we collect and how we use it, last visited April 4, 2008.
12. YouTube Privacy Policy, February 27, 2008, last visited April 4, 2008.
13. YouTube Privacy Policy, February 27, 2008, last visited April 4, 2008.
14. Google Privacy Policy, October 14, 2005, Information we collect and how we use it, last visited April 4, 2008.
15. YouTube Privacy Policy, February 27, 2008, last visited April 4, 2008.
16. YouTube Privacy Policy, February 27, 2008, last visited April 4, 2008.
17. Google Privacy Policy, October 14, 2005, Information we collect and how we use it, last visited April 4, 2008.

Image: PPDIGITAL