24 October 2016

ProPublica: “Google Has Quietly Dropped Ban on Personally Identifiable Web Tracking”

And, for nearly a decade, Google did in fact keep DoubleClick’s massive database of web-browsing records separate by default from the names and other personally identifiable information Google has collected from Gmail and its other login accounts.

But this summer, Google quietly erased that last privacy line in the sand – literally crossing out the lines in its privacy policy that promised to keep the two pots of data separate by default. In its place, Google substituted new language that says browsing habits “may be” combined with what the company learns from the use Gmail and other tools.

Julia Angwin

Good thing I have already opted out of most of Google’s web tracking tools by disabling my search history in its various forms.

Google activity controls

In an update to the original article, Google clarified that it doesn’t currently use Gmail keywords to target web ads (emphasis on ‘currently’ I guess).

But let’s look at it another way: even if Google were to start doing that today, would it even matter? Personal communication has moved to mobile messaging apps to such degree that I’m not sure the information Google would compile from Gmail would be relevant. I can see that clearly in my own habits, in the past six months or less I have all but abandoned email conversations and moved to WhatsApp groups. WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are very wide-spread and cross-platform and the cost to creating an account is essentially negligible (especially on WhatsApp where you only need to connect a phone number), making these apps powerful competitors to old-fashioned email.

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