The Biggest Spy on the Internet – Part 3

Now that I know everything about you, maybe I can predict what you are likely to do in the future.  In the first two parts of this report, we looked at Google and the many products and services that collect information about you, and just what kind of details are included in that informational trove.  Today we will see what that information can do.

Whether you call it bots, AI (artificial intelligence), or data analytics, since Google knows who you are, where you go, and what you have done in the past, with the right algorithms, Google’s computers can make some stunningly accurate predictions about what you might be doing in the future.  Their computers may be able to figure out other things about you.  Lets see what some of those things might be.

  • What you look like – Thanks to facial recognition software and photo tagging, Google has a pretty good idea about your appearance.  Especially if you uploaded your picture to your Google account.
  • What you sound like – If you have used voice commands, or recorded a voicemail greeting, Google has a log of your voice.  Check it out in the Voice and Audio section of your Google account’s My Activity section.  I use speech to text all the time on my Pixel, and those sessions are recorded.  Every word I said.
  • Your religion – Going to the same location every Sunday at 9:00?  Bingo!  (I guess my religion is Denny’s.)  Or maybe you read the Catholic Digest online. Or watched a sermon live online or on YouTube?
  • Your politics – I think my politics might be Denny’s too.  Just kidding.  But all the emails I get from the Libertarian Party might give them a clue, not to mention the debates I get into on Facebook.  (Facebook – another big data collector!)
  • Your employer or profession – This isn’t even hard.  GPS location, Monday through Friday from 8 to 5?  And your professional history on LinkedIn?
  • Your health – Your search history on medical sites could be an indication of the sorts of health issues you might be facing.
  • Your home – The key to real estate is location, location, location.  Your phone’s GPS knows where you live.  Plus your search activity on your home computer provides your IP address, which can be correlated to your street address.
  • Your favorite places – Phone GPS again, coupled with frequency information can reveal your favorite coffee shop or stores you patronize.  My phone is always welcoming me to Walmart. Annoying.  And a bit creepy.
  • Business travel – Where you went, where you stayed, companies you visited, and from Calendar and Contacts, even who you met with.  Complete with dates and times.
  • Vacations – Not only where you went, but where you stayed, how long you were there, attractions you visited during your vacation right down to when you arrived and left.
  • Who you know – Also where you meet, and what you might be talking about.  Gmail, Contacts and Calendar can provide the information.
  • Food, Books, Movies – GPS information combined with web search information can get me that information.
  • Interests – Dining out, art museums, plays or performances, causes, organizations.
  • Future travel – Web search, airline and hotel booking sites, and Google Calendar entries provide the clues.
  • Life plans – Starting a family, going back to school, or retiring?  Your search history will provide clues about these impending events.
  • Financial – Google knows where you bank and have your investments and 401K from your web site history and things like saved bookmarks.
  • Online habits – Google Chrome knows about your browser settings, apps and extensions. Email addresses, names , addresses, and phone numbers store in Autofill.  Every web site you ever visited. Every site you have bookmarked.  Passwords that Chrome has saved.  All your open browser tabs.  Gmail conversations.  How many times you searched and what you searched for.

Hopefully I haven’t completely freaked you out with this.  First, Google is a business, and is unlikely to do anything that might really anger a huge part of their user base.  And they are governed by law, and have to answer to government agencies like the Federal Trade Commission.  And second, they are not the only big data collector out there, remember Amazon, Facebook, and dozens of other companies are engaged in the same thing.  If you are going to enjoy the benefits of the Internet, you have to accept some of this activity, and probably already have.  We can hope they have decent security to keep this information from the clutches of identity thieves and cyber-scammers.

In our next and final post on this topic, we will look at solutions you can use to reduce your exposure to data collection efforts of these companies.

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About the Author:

Cybersecurity analyst, pen-tester, trainer, and speaker. Serving small business owners in the St Paul, Minneapolis, and western Wisconsin area since 2001. Cybersecurity and hacking have been a passion of mine since I entered the computer and networking business in 2000. I hold several cybersecurity certifications including Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Advanced Security Pratitioner (CASP), and Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH). Other computer industry certifications include A+, Network+ and Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE). As Cybersecurity Analyst at The WyzCo Group, I help our clients experience high levels of security on their computers, networks, and websites. In addition to consulting on security products and services, we also conduct security audits, vulnerability assessments and full penetration tests. We also work with companies and organizations that need to certify compliance with regulations such as PCI-DSS (credit card processing), HIPAA/HITECH (medical records), and GLBA. We also provide Cybersecurity Awareness Training for clients and their employees. I am a frequent speakers at cybersecurity conferences such as the Minnesota Bloggers Conference, Secure360 Security Conference, the (ISC)2 World Congress, and the ISSA International Conference, and many local community organizations, Chambers of Commerce, SCORE, and several school districts. I have been blogging on cybersecurity since 2008.
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