And that’s creeping a lot of people out, including me.
This is not an entirely rational reaction. After all, I did know that Google was watching my every move, but don't think about it much, except when startled by an advertisement that harkens back to a search I’d made months earlier. (We bought my daughter a camera last summer and it still feels like camera ads follow me everywhere.) There’s a difference, however, between knowing that Google search is watching your moves, and knowing that search is sneaking around behind your back talking to Gmail and Google maps and Google+ all its other friends.
I do appreciate Google bringing all these privacy issues into the limelight. That’s why I think that March 1st should be declared Privacy Day. We should use this day to think about the access we’ve given to our information throughout the year, and whether those recipients still really need such access. We should clean our cookies, delete our histories, and root around in our computers and see who has any other virtual keys to our electronic doors. But we should do this knowing that, in the long run, we will continue to steadily give up online privacy. And, in fact, that many of us will do so willingly, because applications and services that know more about us are, indeed, able to be more efficient.
So, in honor of Privacy Day, I
• Deleted my account on Google+. I wasn’t using it anyway, and Google doesn’t really need to hang on to the profile information I once provided there.
• Checked my google.com/ads/preferences. That’s how you find out what conclusions Google has drawn from the information it has gathered to date. Google has concluded that I’m a 65+-year-old man (incorrect on both age and gender) who is very interested in consumer electronics gizmos, Broadway shows, and women’s fashion. Hmmm.
• Paused YouTube history as well
• Finally, I had been thinking about moving my personal email account over to Gmail, but I decided to keep it where it is, at least for now.
There’s more I could do over on Google, but I’m going to wait and see if all these changes makes it harder to find the information I need—or turn out not to matter.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.