Let’s take this seriously

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

While I absolutely adore the internet and would rather give up coffee again than go without my web fix, there are some things I’d happily change.

I’m sure that by now you all know my feelings on spammers, scammers, phishers, hackers and all the other online scumbags who need to stay the hell away from my computer.

However, the thing that has been bugging me the most recently is privacy. It feels like we’re hearing every day about new breaches of online privacy. In fact, it’s happening so often that everyone seems to have become a little complacent. Facebook has been criticised for making too much of our personal information available for any old dodgy stalker to see, which prompted a lot of people to start changing the way their profiles were displayed.

But wouldn’t it be better if our privacy was protected to start with? Shouldn’t everything be private by default, with us end-users choosing which parts of our information could be seen?

Sadly, though, it’s Google that has me the most worried.

Yes, I defended the whole Google Street View thing when it first hit our shores (well, our roads). And, to tell the truth, I still don’t really have a problem with the system so long as requests for removal are honoured by the Google dudes.

However, the collecting of emails and passwords from private computers on wireless networks while the Google camera cars were photographing for Street View is another story.

There have been plenty of excuses and “we did it all by mistake” responses from Google, but let’s be honest here: one of the world’s top tech companies should have known better. There is no way that type of information should have been accidentally “gathered”.

Yes, people with wireless networks should keep themselves safe, and no, there was no evidence to suggest Google had any malicious intent but that’s beside the point: Google should know better.

Add to that the fact that Google boss Eric Schmidt has in the past said that the solution for youngsters who put a little too much of themselves out there online, and who want to cleanup their act when they are a little older, is to change their name and you start to get the impression that privacy, and education on protecting it, isn’t a high priority.

He has suggested that if people are concerned by what the Google cameras might pick up they can just move. OK then.

He’s since claimed he meant the name change comment as a joke and has backtracked a little on the “just move” idea but that isn’t his only worrying quote.

“We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about,” is probably the most disturbing, but saying Google’s company policy is “to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it” is scary, too.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think Google is full of geeky goodness. But please, take our privacy a little more seriously guys.


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