Do you think that your activity on the Web is protected and anonymous? If so, you might be surprised to learn that Google (GOOG) has a new feature that nicely analyzes all your searches for the last few years -- possibly coupled with details about the people in your address book and your online purchases. If you have a Google account, you can access the whole thing at Google Dashboard, according to The Boston Globe.
Since Google is committed to avoiding evil -- which as I posted, means protecting your privacy -- you have nothing to worry about from the Google engineers and advertising specialists who do have access to that information. And what a treasure trove Google Dashboard provides!
You may not recall all the searches you've done -- but Google Dashboard will help you remember. As the Globe reports, that's because every search you perform is recorded and preserved for future analysis, "to help Google improve its service." The Globe reporter was able to review his Web searches going back to 2006 -- including inquires for "airline tickets, books and magazine articles, [and] a new clarinet for my daughter."
If you sign up for other Google services, you give the company access to all sorts of other information you might have thought was private. Google offers free e-mail, an online appointment calendar and address book, document creation and management, and the Google Voice telephone and messaging service. Each encourages you to supply specific information about you, your friends, family and business colleagues.
If someone hacks into Google's system and grabs the data -- or if a hacker simply guesses your Google password -- there's no limit to the profit opportunities such a privacy invader might seize at your expense
So what can you do to protect your privacy? At the extreme, you could stop using the Internet. Or you can be selective about which Web sites you give your personal information to. Keep your address book private, remove cookies from your browser, and use an ad blocking program.
If evil people were running Google, there's no telling what they could do -- it might make a compelling horror movie. But if you produce that film, make sure you don't buy anything through a Google search that could give hackers access to your credit card details.
Peter Cohan is a management consultant, Babson professor and author of nine books, including Capital Rising (due in June 2010). Follow him on Twitter. He has no financial interest in Google securities.