Google is Reading Your GMail. What About Your GDocs?

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How much of your personal data can Google really see? Pretty much everything.

A recent code push in Google’s algorithms caused some users to be locked out of their own documents.

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The code update likely caused a bug that flagged these Docs due to “alleged copyright infringement” as outlined in Google’s mandatory Terms of Service (ToS).

Since many of us writers rarely attribute sources while working on drafts, many of our incomplete documents could constitute copyright infringement (or as stony-faced professors call it, “plagiarism”).

However, this incident did more than inconvenience a few. It’s forced the greater public to look much closer at services and terms we often take for granted.gmail account, gdoc, gdocs

So is Google Really Reading my Mail?

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Google

In a word: Yes.

Google’s automated systems read everything you enter into their services – including text you type into your Gmail account. It’s all in the Terms of Service you (like myself) hastily agreed to!

Just to give you an idea, here’s a short list of some the kinds of data they’re collecting:

  • Where you are (IP address)
  • Your age, name, company and any other private info you gave them during account creation
  • Text from your Gmail account
  • Any photos/docs you’ve downloaded through Chrome or uploaded to GDrive or your G+profile
  • Everything affiliated with GDocs, Gsheets, GPhotos, etc.
  • Your Google search history
  • Your browser history in Chrome
  • Texts/calls/images/etc on your phone if you have a Google phone

Basically ANYTHING you “submit, store, send or receive” while using a Google-affiliated service of any kind is read and analyzed by Google bots.

Depending on your Google account settings Google can combine and sell this information to 3rd parties. Typically, they do this in order to deliver more precisely targeted advertising and improve their own services. However, as of right now, there aren’t any steadfast protection laws on the books safeguarding users against this kind of information gathering.

Privacy Matters

As Greenwald points out in the video above, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg famously said in 2010 that privacy is no longer a “social norm”. Zuckerberg then went on to buy a house and four adjacent houses for $30 million USD in order to ensure their personal privacy.

The irony here is that the lifeblood of Zuckerberg’s enterprise is your’s and my personal data–the very thing he wants to keep to himself. No matter how you slice it, personal privacy is important to us. The steady peeling back of our privacy has affected the way we live our lives.

From those that aren’t worried about privacy, Greenwald hears a common saying: “I don’t really worry about invasions of privacy; I don’t have anything to hide.” But those same people would not give Greenwald their passwords and allow him to publish whatever he found interesting in their personal data.

From Privacilla.org: “privacy helps individuals maintain their autonomy and individuality. People define themselves by exercising power over information about themselves and a free country does not ask people to answer for the choices they make about what information is shared and what is held close.”

When people are being watched, they tend to act closer to universal conformity. They lose individuality and character. If all of our personal data is exposed to Google and the government, we may end up living in Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon.

In this “mill that grinds rogues honest”, would people who are watched actually be honest? More likely, people who are constantly watched would cease to be individuals at all and would act according to external norms rather than their own agency.

Think about it. Do you copy and paste your conversations with your loved ones into Facebook or Instagram posts? No. You frame them to be presentable to the audience. You operate under the assumption that you have the right to choose how you are presented to the world. If all of our personal data is exposed, you no longer have that right.

In light of this, you have to wonder: Is a Google doc really that different from a tweet or Instagram post? Are you worried about privacy?

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