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Why I let Google Take the Wheel

Daniela Cabrera

Why I let Google Take the Wheel by Daniela Cabrera on October 13th, 2017

Have you ever thought that with every new electronic device comes a new set of permissions that allows such device to basically have full access to your life? From syncing accounts to recording calls with the clear intention of make everything easier for us, but at what cost?

Usually people don’t think about it this way, but smartphones are actually tracking devices. They take note of everything that we do. They travel with us, they sleep next to us, we use them to search for answers, set reminders and fix appointments.

For the past couple of weeks, my colleagues and I have been debating on the idea that our phones actually listen to what we are talking about. And we have examples. We would be talking about a topic and later when we checked our Instagram feeds, just to mention one, there is an ad related to what we were just talking about. No need to run a quick search or send a link, with just talking about it we got served that ad.

There have been many releases from Google and other companies stating that they do not use our phones microphones to record our conversations in order to sell advertisement to us. But how can we be sure that smartphones mics are not being used to collect data and target appropriate content to users?

MONTREAL CANADA – MAY 23 2016 : Google Now Launcher application on Samsung S7 screen. Google Now is an intelligent personal assistant developed by Google.

Apparently, they do it just to be able to improve their voice-recognition systems and give us a better experience when we go “Ok, Google!” or “Hey, Siri”. But, in my opinion, it doesn’t feel like that. It feels more like “surveillance-driven advertising” than just a good coincidence and, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence.

Once you sign in to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest or any of the existing social media platforms, you are giving them consent that they will use your camera and microphone and keep running them in the background, even when you are not using those apps.

Moreover, there is an actual algorithm behind everything you do on your phone, so companies can look for patterns to later accurately determine your behaviors and interests.

If you are not feeling like being monitored all the time, there are options to stop this on your phone by actually disabling the microphone use on your device, for example.

Google has its own site for you to check your activity (https://myactivity.google.com/myactivity) and you are able to select and delete any action at any given time. This seems relatively transparent, as it allows you to review what has been collected. What is interesting is that they don’t openly publicize about it.

Keeping all this in mind, the question is: how much do we value our privacy? And, how important is convenience for us? I am always on-board with everything related to new technologies and new ways to simplify my living. I like the fact that I see Google as my “close friend” or my “personal assistant”. It knows when I am about to go home and it shows me the best route options without me moving a single finger. It also knows if I am looking for a new bed for my puppy and shows me the best options around. It’s amazing!

The benefits can be endless when you have technology by your side. Here are my top 3 technological benefits, based on my personal experience:

  1. Location, Location, Location: My phone knows the place I am at and at what time. Google specifically can show me restaurant recommendations, hours of operations of stores around me and directories of the closest mall in the area.
  2. Google Photos: having unlimited free space in my personal gallery is something I really value. I can go back to 2010 and be ashamed of all the crazy hairstyles I used to wear. Pictures will be stored in there until I decide to delete them, I just need to set it up with my email account and I don’t need to pay a cent for it.
  3. Shopping offers: I am a shopaholic, so whenever there is a discount or a sale going on, I want to know about it. Google makes it easy for me to learn about any new promotions by showing me ads based on my searches and my interests.

If our phones are actually listening to us or not we cannot say for sure, yet. Nonetheless we are at a time in history where we have to keep moving forward and embrace technological advances to our benefit. We are not the same society that we were 10 years ago, not even 3 years ago, and it seems that there is nothing we can do to stop this change and evolution.

At the end, we all like having the latest electronic devices when it comes to smartphones or tablets, so we have to deal with the consequences of being part of this new “tech-addict” generation. The question still stands; how much do you value privacy in relation to convenience?


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