If you’re a Gmail user, you’re probably aware by now that Google has recently announced an update to their flagship mail service’s look.
For some, this may be a reason to fawn over Google’s dependable and innovative mail service (despite a dearth of updates in the past seven years). But for us internet privacy gadflies, Google’s cosmetic tweaks are just a reminder that a company that makes billions a year off your personal data is not your friend.
We’ve all learned to love the convenience that Google’s ecosystem of apps and services affords us. Despite the company’s misfires and peccadilloes, there’s always been an element of cool associated with Google and its “free” services—that we pay for with our personal data. “Who cares that they read our emails?” some might say. “At least we’re not using Yahoo.”
(Google technically doesn’t read your emails anymore, but that’s not exactly comforting. After all, they store all of your emails—so if they ever change their minds, they can always go back and retroactively scan the emails they decided not to read.)
Many people assume that Google, much like a philanthropist or a non-profit organization, produces its search engine and email service solely for the benefit of humankind. Perhaps it’s hard not to see it that way, considering that most people on the internet rarely see Google’s commercial side or pay for its ad services themselves.
But let’s be honest with ourselves: would a publicly-traded company, with obligations to its investors and stakeholders, pursue projects on as grand a scale as Gmail or Google Search merely for philanthropic purposes?
“Okay,” you might say. “Google exploits our personal data to sell targeted ads to other companies. Big deal.”
Perhaps you say this because you believe you have nothing to hide—and that’s okay. But think of it this way: Google’s free exploitation of your personal data for profit is only mere steps removed from that of a thought-police state, where authorities have the power to monitor and suppress your opinions and activities, whether by encouraging self-censorship, or by direct coercion.
Only the separation between Google’s servers and the government’s data troves—which, as Snowden showed us, is tenuous, at best—keeps this authoritarian nightmare from becoming a reality.
If this sounds like fear-mongering to you, keep in mind that censorship and cyber-monitoring is common all over the world. In China alone, 1.4 billion people live under the diktat of broad-based censorship and a proposed massive surveillance system masked as a “social reputation” initiative.
If that’s not the world you want to live in, I suggest starting small. Don’t let internet companies monitor everything you do online. Don’t make it easy for anyone to track you or censor your online activities. Encrypt your communications. And, whatever you do, don’t use Gmail.
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