Have you ever wondered whether Google is a computer security threat? After all, they do collect an incredible amount of data about you. Instead of telling you whether or not Google is a computer security threat, let’s review all the ways they monitor you on the Web so you can decide for yourself whether or not they’re a threat.
Are Web Searches a Computer Security Threat?
If you have a Google account, you probably know that Google monitors all web searches you make through Google. It’s obvious because Google lets you review your search history.
Less obvious is the fact that Google records web searches you make even when you aren’t logged in. That’s how Google’s auto-complete works—it uses Google’s enormous database of previous searches to guess what you’re trying to search for.
Google does not currently release search histories to anyone unless they have a government warrant—but Google operates in dozens of nations, so even if your country has strong privacy protections, some unsavory character in a less strict country could still get a warrant for your search data and reveal to the world what you’ve been searching for.
Of course many people would not even care about this. I know that if they tracked my searching habits it would be very boring and useless data.
Are Advertisements A Computer Security Threat?
Google runs the Internet’s largest advertising network and they do a pretty good job of it. Advertisers are generally happy with the results and publishers are generally happy with the income—but what about you?
You’ve almost certainly seen the Google ads (unless you use an advertisement blocker), but what you don’t see directly is that the advertisements are almost all buried in an iframe—a part of one website which gets incorporated into another. There are many obvious threats from your internet connection but not many people think about what happens when they visit a normal website.
When you view a webpage which includes a Google ad, you load Google’s ad from Google’s server. That means Google knows that you visited that webpage. Also, because Google indexes most pages on the Web, it also knows the rough content of that page. So if you visit a site related to model trains, Google knows you’re interested in model trains.
Model trains isn’t too embarrassing of an interest, but have you ever (accidentally or on purpose) visited a page about something you’d find very embarrassing? If that page had Google ads, Google knows about that page visit of yours.
From a publishers point of view, the more targeted the ad can be, the better.
Are Analytical Webmasters A Computer Security Threat?
Blocking Google ads with Ad Block Pro or other software is easy, so you can circumvent Google’s ad-based tracking and improve your Internet experience at the same time, but Google can probably still track you thanks to Google Analytics.
Google Analytics is Google’s website statistics tool. It helps webmasters monitor and analyze their traffic so they can build better websites and earn more money. Again, it’s a great tool and webmasters love it, but it works by embedding a bit of Google’s code onto independent webservers, giving Google complete access to visitors on that website.
When you visit a website with Google Analytics code installed, Google can track you on that site in almost the same way it can track you using Google Ads, so once again Google knows what webpages you visited and what the rough content of that page is.
Google will even know that I have written this article by tracking me through their authorship features.
Other Google Tracking
Of course, then there are the more obvious forms of Google tracking you, such as GMail and Google+, where you actively give Google your information. If you use these services and let Google track you using search, ads, and analytics, Google will probably know more about you than your own family. It will probably know things you were too embarrassed to tell them.
Only you can determine for yourself whether or not that’s a computer security threat.
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