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Relax with big brother

Google is developing new services at a fast pace and is constantly learning more about you. We seem to enjoy the attention.


[Internet] At an amazing pace, Google is coming up with ever-new, smart and elegant services. Google is becoming much more than just the world's largest and best search engine. In 2005, Google passed Time Warner and Disney and became the world's most valuable media company, the BBC writes.

Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are now challenging Bill Gates. While Microsoft has based its empire on buying programs for your computer, Google is investing online. In March, Google purchased the site, an online alternative to Word. Today's Business wrote this week about Google's newly launched calendar, one of several steps in the competition against Microsoft's Outlook.

The search technology and the relevant ads are the success form for Google's search engine. This recipe takes Google into several of the new services. Gmail is Google's email service. The storage capacity of Gmail users is now a full 2,7 gigabyte and is constantly increasing. This means that you can have many thousands of images or Word documents stored in Gmail.

The fun is funded by relevant advertising. It is not yet decided whether Writely will be equipped with advertisements. On both and Gmail, a number of relevant ads appear on the right side of the screen. The advertisement is therefore about the same as the content of the messages. Does this mean that Google is reading your mail?

Analyzing mail

When you call newly established Google Norway in Trondheim, you encounter a nice voice saying that Google Norway does not want to comment on such issues, but refers to the headquarters in Mountain View, California, as well as a large number of press releases online. There we can read the following:

“The selection of ads that match the content is a fully automated process performed by computers. No people read your mail, and no emails or other personally identifiable information is displayed to advertisers. "

This answer is not good enough, according to the Washington DC-based Electronic Privacy Information Center. In particular, they respond that emails from people who do not use Gmail, and therefore have not accepted Gmail's terms, are also analyzed when this email is received by a Gmail user. This also allows non-users to end up with a profile with Gmail, because Gmail's privacy policy doesn't prohibit Google from creating such profiles, the research center writes.

Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia driven by the principle of virtue; users are constantly posting updated information about the lookup words. Here we read that more than 30 civil rights organizations have urged Gmail to strengthen privacy. Google has been particularly criticized for combining information from a person's email with information about that person's web search. It is uncertain how long such information is stored and how it can be used.

Selling information

- I am not surprised that more and more people store information online, but I apologize for this development, says the Data Inspectorate's director, Georg Apenes.

He recalls that American teenagers have come to the holiest in the Israeli Defense Department.

- And they are not exactly amateurs to protect themselves, says Apenes.

Researcher at the Department of Computer Science at the University of Oslo, Gisle Hannemyr, thinks the information Google has on it can be used for political surveillance.

- Google are experts in data mining. The conditions in Gmail are that they can use email to harvest information that enables Google to create detailed profiles, not only directly related to individuals, but also on demographic criteria, such as gender, age, place of residence and resold interests to companies that conduct market research, he says.

US authorities have already tried to gain access to Google's information as part of the fight against child pornography. Although the authorities have not requested personal data at this time, Google has nevertheless refused to comply, including for privacy reasons. The case is still pending in the US legal system.

- However, there is little doubt that the information that Google has about its users is politically sensitive. It can be tempting for the authorities to gain access to information that can be used for illegal political surveillance as we know it from the Lund report [public report from 1996 on illegal surveillance of Norwegian citizens, editor's note]. Often under the guise of purposes that have broad and popular support such as the fight against child pornography or terrorism, says Gisle Hannemyr.


- Search information has already appeared in a Norwegian criminal case. It was a poison murder where the fact that the accused had searched a lot online for the special poison that had been used for the murder was used as an indication that he was the killer. However, the search information was in this case found by a review of the so-called "history" file that was stored on his own computer, and not handed over from Google to the police, Hannemyr says.

- Why do so many people agree to expose their souls and their innermost thoughts to a commercial company that stores the information on the internet?

- Many are very naive in relation to the internet, says Apenes.

- The web is always something people see as fantastic and fascinating, therefore we are willing to get involved far more than if it were an old technology. We would not put our archive out along the E6 like a pile of paper.

- Is there a general tendency for us to expose ourselves more and more?

- Yes, it definitely is. In our time, when it is so important to be seen, people do not care that they strip, in a figurative sense, to the general public. I do not think people are aware of how potent the web is.

- But there are serious players who run these websites where people can store personal information?

- Yes, and they have an interest in protecting the material. But if you have motivation, resources and a little patience then you need to get into anything online. In addition, there are the unintentional disclosures, where, for example, bank account data is suddenly openly available due to an accident, says Apenes.

In George Orwell's 1984, from 1948, Orwell warns against a totalitarian state where the authorities control and supervise subjugated residents. 16 years earlier, Aldous Huxley wrote the novel Brave New World. Here, however, the people are happy and voluntarily disclose all information to the authorities.

- I'm more afraid of Huxley than Orwell. At Orwell, the repression happens with violence and police, while at Huxley's slaves are happy, and if they start to get dissatisfied, they can just take a pill soma. I do not think an Orwellian state is possible in Norway in the foreseeable future, but Huxley is probably not that far away, says Apenes.

Another dystopia of the future is described in the short film EPIC made by Robin Sloan and Mat Thompson. The film describes the media reality in 2014 where paper newspapers and critical journalism barely exist. By contrast, personalized, tailor-made news produced through the Epic (Evolving Personalized Information Construct) information technology dominates. In this fiction, Epic has come to the world through a merger of Google and Amazon, among others, and the news Epic produces is based on all the information these two companies have gradually gathered about their users and their interests.

- Epic is fascinating, says Gisle Hannemyr.

- Similar services will probably be part of the Google future, they will be able to buy up online communities and thus incorporate larger and larger sections of the population. It's a seductive thought that enables improbably cool services, stimulating and fun services that I would like to use. Google is best at attracting people who see opportunities where others see gray stones, Hannemyr concludes.

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