I've been a strong proponent of Google's Gmail over the years, but now I'm starting to be skeptical of the web giant's second-largest product.
In case you have not heard, Microsoft recently attacked Gmail during its promotion of the new Office 365 product. What is portrayed (quite humorously) in the video attack, is that any email that is handled through Gmail is scanned for keywords and phrases, then advertising relevant to those keywords is displayed when you visit certain areas of Google and other websites.
That really breaks the rules, Google. And, if there is any truth to the information coming from Microsoft, Google has broken my trust. I'm starting to wonder if Google is becoming a sort of "big brother" entity with the huge amount of data they have. As much as I like Gmail, and several other of Google's offerings, I'm not sure I can in good conscience keep Gmail going.
Not long ago, Keith Dunbar of Bowie County, Texas, filed a class action lawsuit against Google for scanning emails he sent from a non-Gmail account to Gmail users, and did so without his consent.
After all, privacy is a big issue these days. Facebook stepped all over everyone's toes when they recently re-vamped their privacy policies. At one point, they were selling your private information to advertisers! Online privacy only recently became something that legislators took seriously, and now there is a multitude of protections in place, and precedents set that clearly make such violations of privacy inappropriate and illegal.
Some sites are clearly public - like Twitter. Everything you post on Twitter is meant for everyone to see. Some sites have "location" services built in. Sites like FourSquare, and most recently Facebook, are allowing users to post where they are, such as "Enjoying a hamburger at Chili's".
Okay, first of all, most people don't care that you are eating a burger at Chili's. Second you just told the world you are not at home. If you are thinking to yourself that this is not an issue, then head on over to pleaserobme.com and see the reality of it. Homes have been burglarized by so-called 'friends' and family because they knew they were not home. It is the oldest trick in the burglar's book - knowing when people are not home. And now technology makes it possible for them to find out when.
In addition, if you post "I'm at the Smith's house having dinner", and you are using a mobile application that includes location data, you just gave away your friends' house too.
So, will you continue to put your personal life online? Will you tell the world you're loving your cruise, all the while posting photos from the ship? Will you continue to use services with questionable motives? Ultimate responsibility falls on you, the user, when deciding whether or not to post personal data online. The web giants may end up paying for misuse of that data, but you might pay for it also by not using these services wisely.
Matthew Hinman is the Southwest Region Online Coordinator with American Consolidated Media. He is involved with the development and implementation of ACM's websites in Texas and other areas.