Google is more than just a search engine. According to its own support page, it has over 95 different products including a search engine, a phone and computer operating system, a social networking site, a photo sharing service, online document storage and a hotel finder. Quite an impressive range of services.
Click the picture above to see the full image
All these services run by one company means Google can collect a lot of information about you and what you do on the web. It knows which applications are installed on your phone (if you have an android), what you plan to do today (if you use Google calender), which videos you have watched on YouTube, who’s been visiting your websites, what web browser you use, where you browse the internet from (the country + your ISP) and considering they own gmail, one of the most popular email providers, some specialists at Google also have access to your email account…scary stuff isn’t it?
There is an interesting story about a former Google engineer spying on individuals. He tapped into Google Voice call logs, had unrestricted access emails within Gmail accounts and had much more access to stuff that should have been secure. Google have taken steps to try and address privacy concerns by encrypting Gmail to protect messages from hackers and updating their privacy policies to make them simpler for users to understand, however is that really enough to stop another someone from the inside leaking sensitive information?
The big question – Could Google steal your identity?
In theory, yes. In order to steal an identity you would need the name, current address, telephone number, previous addresses, current and past employment information and depending on what the thief intends to do, possibly your national insurance number too. If you were to fill in your address on your Google+ profile, your real contact details on Google Talk and send an e-mail through GMail to a potential employer disclosing the other details then in theory, Google would have enough information to steal your identity.
You can view all the information Google has on you either through the dashboard, account activity and ad preferences (This information is collected based on your browsing history/cookies, but it can be fun to see Google’s guess at your age and gender). There is a European data protection law which means for a small fee you can submit a written request for your full data a company holds on you, however as Google UK does not hold the data and the EU laws do not extend to the US parent company there is no real chance of getting all the user data from Google.
I’m certainly not saying that Google is bad or that the risks outweigh the benefits, we just thought it was interesting to think about all the different types of information Google now has about so many people. It’s really quite incredible that in only a few short years we’ve gone from the printed Yellow Pages to a system which will automatically add football fixtures of your team’s next match to your phone calendar, purely based on the fact that you read more about them on the web than any other team (yes, this is a real example).