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Google exec defends search snooping, location tracking

Apple's Maps app, however, could get you killed

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Google may store your search history and know where you are, but unless you've been searching for tips on how to suffocate someone, your privacy is secure. How do we know? Because according to Google's Chief Technology Advocate Michael Jones, "We're nice people as well as business people."

Appearing on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's One on One interview show, Jones attempted not only to allay fears about his company's targeting of ads and information based on search history, but also argued that Google deserves more trust than government.

"We try to gather insight in order to help you better, but the insight we gather is very simple," he told his interlocutor. "We say, 'Here's a user with this Gmail account, and when they do searches, and they search for Paris Hilton, they want to see pictures of a girl or they want to see hotel bookings.' Later on when you search for Paris Hilton, we know which to show you."

Exactly how Google knows whether you were searching for Ms. Hilton's infamous "1 Night in Paris" sex video or simply want to spend one night in Paris, France, Jones didn't say, but presumably Google's equally infamous algorithms aggregate your search requests to make its decisions.

But that insight into your interests is a good thing, Jones contends. "I think everybody sort of secretly dreams of having a butler or a personal valet like you might see some royalty have," he said. "We can build that for you in your phone. We need to know a little bit about your preferences, which kinds of restaurants you like, what shoe size you have, and we can help you know things."

Of course, when approached by the police, Google can help them know things, as well. "It is true that we gather information," he said. "And sometimes, for example, storing your search history, you might have searched for how to suffocate someone, and then it comes up in a trial that somebody gets suffocated, maybe you're accused. The police want us to tell them if you've searched for suffocation techniques."

And, Jones said, Google will comply with certain such government requests, but only when they're forced to do so by court order.

He also said that Google's location-tracking was thoroughly benign, and only used as a means to help you. "Already, when you walk around, at Google we kind of know where you're at," he said. "And we can say, 'Oh, it's lunchtime, there's a restaurant you like just around the corner that has a special on."

He did admit, however, that some folks might find such surveillance a bit off-putting. "That's either helpful, or that's frightening," he said. "It depends on how you like that."

But, of course, one should like being tracked and guided by Google, and one should trust them, says Jones. "I think what's important is that you only work with people that you trust. I certainly trust Apple and I trust Google – I trust Microsoft, for that matter. These are not corrupt organizations, these are nice people trying to serve you."

Jones may trust the nice people at Apple – but only up to a point. When deflecting one question about whether users of Google services should be concerned about all the information being collected and stored about them, he joked, "I think you should be worried about getting where you want to go if you use Apple Maps, to be honest. You're taking your life in your own hands there."

And if you do find Google's information-collection frightening, you can simply take your business elsewhere, he said. "Everyone that uses Google does it voluntarily. You do a search at Google? You could have gone somewhere else. You came to us. If you felt we might betray you, you wouldn't come to us."

And there is, of course, the bottom line for Google to think about. "We stand to lose 30 billion dollars or more the moment people lose trust in us," Jones said.

But, Jones asserted, Google is eminently trustworthy – more trustworthy than your government, in fact. "I think you should decide the following thing: do you want the world's information available to you? And if you do, it's gotta come from one of two sources: either your government – or like the United Nations or some other government – or its gotta come from a company," he said.

"So who do you trust more, Google or your administration? That's a good question. Who do you trust more, Google or your mayor?"

To Jones, the answer is simple: Google. "We have a pretty unblemished record of doing our very best to serve every human," he said. "We serve truth and comprehensiveness to every human as best we possibly can."

And how well is Google doing in its noble service of truth? "So far," Jones said, "I think we get an 'A' – or even maybe 'A+'."

The Reg would like to point its dear readers to the qualifier Jones added to his self-congratulatory grading: "So far." ®

Bootnote

Interestingly, Jones' call for unquestioning trust of Google's intentions come hard on the heels of Microsoft's latest ad in its "Scroogled" series of attack ads against the Mountain View search giant, this one targeting Google's scanning of Gmail messages for ad-targeting tidbits:

Top three mobile application threats

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