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Why you should take care not to share

You can't take back what you say online - which is all the more worrying, given Google's latest privacy changes

What did we do before the web? It’s our source of entertainment and news, and one of our most important means of keeping in touch. The results of our annual Home Broadband Survey have given us pause for thought on how well web access is delivered and how much we’ve come to rely on it.

Time was when the broadsheets decried couch-potato Brits for spending too much time in front of the TV. Now we’re tweeting, chatting via IM, downloading and gossiping on our smartphones and tablets. We’re not just ‘getting online’, we’re using our web access in the way it was intended: as a means to do all the things connectedness engenders. We’re also sharing a lot of information online.

Twitter, Facebook and, to a greater extent, Google have made sure the web is absolutely personal. Our every tweet, comment and thumbs-up about a particular story or product is duly noted. In the headline-hungry online world, the pressure’s on to pass comment, break a story or add a witticism on Twitter that others will pick up and relay. Not-so-subtle ads appear next to stories in our Facebook pages and email conversations. We’re constantly urged to ‘like’ items recommended by our friends. And competition entries and discount deals depend on our willingness to endorse a brand with a click of a button.

This trend can be traced back to Google, and some people took an instant dislike to its Gmail webmail service with its contextual ads. Since its free ad-supported email service began seven years ago, Google has added many more services, all accessible via a central login. This setup came in for criticism when Google+ came along and curiously knew an awful lot about people who had only just signed up to use it.

Now Google is taking steps to clarify what information is stored and how it’s shared across its many services. Suffice to say, it’s got plenty of marketable information on us all. It’s keen to capitalise on both its acquisitions and its many millions-strong user base by directing ads at users of YouTube, Gmail, Google+, Picasa, Blogger and other services you may not explicitly think of as being Google Search-related. Surf the web while logged into a Google service, and you can expect to get pitched on those very topics when next you use a Google-owned service.

In February, Google stated that it intended to create “a beautifully simple and intuitive interface”. Conscious of the potential outcry concerning the way it shares information across its portfolio, existing users were delivered explicit instructions to review Google’s privacy policy when next they logged in. But many of us have come to depend on Google’s various services, and will simply accept what’s being imposed at the expense of yet more erosion of our privacy.

If they object to targeted adverts, and Google knowing all about them, Google Android tablet and smartphone users should consider anonymiser software.

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