Google and Big Data
The state of privacy in the 21st century is a worldwide problem, given how the internet connects us globally. With advances in technology and disk storage being extremely affordable, any companies can collect massive amounts of user data. Companies can “monitor, target, profile and can even sell personal information about consumers to third parties” (Bhasin). This means that any website that you browse, what you buy online, and what you search for, is data being collected by these companies. Is this type of monitoring ever justifiable? Many people might think that having their data in the hands of these companies could be a bad thing, but there are some positives to this. Over time, the data collected will reveal trends about the user.
This user data is valuable and can help companies understand their consumers. For instance, companies can use Google Analytics to gather user data from their websites and apps. The companies can then use this data to understand how visitors engage with their websites and apps and improve their products. Also, when you sign up for a free Google account and agree to the terms of service, there is no such thing as a free lunch. In return for free services, Google collects various data about the user like: location, videos watched, emails, search history, birth-date, gender, country and the list goes on. They use this information to improve user experience and their services like: Google Ads, Google Search, Gmail, Google Maps, and Youtube.
Google is not just limited to just services; they are also active in research and data analysis. For instance, in the peer reviewed article “Google-driven search for big data in autoimmune geoepidemiology”, the researchers discovered unseen connections and geodemographic factors. The results were surprising, such as: “systemic autoimmune diseases are a significant cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, primary Sjögren syndrome with nearly 10 females affected per 1 male and Kawasaki disease affecting only children” (Ramos-Casals). The research was conducted by using the Google Search engine to collect large amounts of data online from various public medical libraries and data was collected from 394,827 patients with systemic autoimmune disease. This research marked a new era in the collection, management and interpretation of big medical data and changed the way physicians make medical decisions. (Ramos-Casals). Despite these benefits of big data collection, there remains one major caveat. Companies that collect data can still sell your personal information to third parties. Google is an exception to this because they have promised to not sell any personal user data and does not allow governments direct access to user data. However, what is stopping other companies from doing the same?
Ramos-Casals, M., Brito-Zerón, P., Kostov, B., Sisó-Almirall, A., Bosch, X., Buss, D., & … Shoenfeld, Y. (2015). Google-driven search for big data in autoimmune geoepidemiology: Analysis of 394,827 patients with systemic autoimmune diseases. Autoimmunity Reviews, 14(8), 670–679. doi:10.1016/j.autrev.2015.03.008
Bhasin, M. L. (2016). Challenge of guarding online privacy: role of privacy seals, government regulations and technological solutions. Socio-Economic Problems & The State, 15(2), 85–104.