Saturday, November 20, 2010

Week 7 BOC: Privacy Issues on the Web - Companies that spy on you

Everyone is concerned with keeping their business private from third parties on the internet. Unfortunately, there are companies that you may know and trust that are collecting your personal information without you even knowing. Two companies that have been doing this lately are Google and Microsoft.

Google is obviously a company that is known to compile the world's information to allow it to be searched on the web. It has definitely been a helpful tool in the past 10 years. Lately however they have stirred up attention for taking things a little too far and making people uncomfortable. Google Earth is a Google Application that allows you to search addresses and other landmarks around the world. “Google Earth is a geobrowser that accesses satellite and aerial imagery, ocean bathymetry, and other geographic data over the internet to represent the Earth as a three-dimensional globe. Geobrowsers are alternatively known as virtual globes or Earth browsers. Google also refers to Google Earth as a "geographic browser.” ( They use street cars that drive around and take pictures of the world's streets allowing for people to have a real street view of any road in the world. Lately these street view cars have been found to be driving around neighborhoods not only taking pictures, but also tapping into unprotected home networks and collecting private data. "Last month, Google disclosed that its Street View cars collected passwords, e-mails and other personal information wirelessly from unsuspecting people across the country," Michele Ellison, the FCC's Enforcement Bureau chief, said in a prepared statement. "The Enforcement Bureau is looking into whether these actions violate the Communications Act." ( Google admitted to these acts and the FCC is deciding whether it violates internet protocol or not. We can only hope the FCC does not allow Google to tap any further into our personal lives.

Recently Microsoft released a new gaming experience called "Kinect". Upon its release, people immediately began to question Kinect's full capabilities. Claims were being made that Kinect is basically a window into your living room allowing Microsoft to see everything that goes on. Kinect can calculate exactly how many people are in the room. It can read your every movements and can even tell when someone leaves or enters the room. There are even claims that Microsoft can use this device to take images of your room to see what you own and what you do. Microsoft may be collecting this information to sell people out to advertisers. "In this particular instance, Dennis Durkin, chief operating officer of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment division, spoke at the BMO Capital Markets forum earlier in November and suggested that Kinect can feed back certain information about its users even if the device isn’t immediately active–for instance, it might take in the team colors of a user who’s watching the Xbox 360′s ESPN stream. That information can go back to advertisers." ( Microsoft claims Kinect won't invade your privacy saying "By default we don't listen or look at anything," MIcrosoft's director of the Kinect technology, Alex Kipman, told Kotaku in a recent interview. "No data is ever sent back to Microsoft. Period. Full stop." ( We can only hope that these companies are looking our for our better interests and not just trying to sell us out to earn an easy dollar. We should be able to trust major corporations like these and be able to purchase products and use applications from them without fear of giving up our rights as Americans.

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