Vindicator Logo

You can’t shake Google trackers

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

“It knows you’re here,” a trainer recently told me in front of a group of educators, my name and image now displayed on the massive screen before us.

“And it can hear you,” the trainer added with a creepy emphasis. Of course, he was trying to be creepy. He knew how disturbing it sounded.

We all gave uncomfortable chuckles. “Why not just add an evil genius laugh to go along with it,” someone added from the back of the room.

“Look, I know this sounds weird, but it only works in this classroom,” our fearless trainer trudged on, trying to dull our privacy and security concerns, with limited success.

As I later confirmed with the other educators, we weren’t just concerned for our own privacy, we were concerned for our students.

“Who’s to say someone can’t just get into this system, and get into a student’s device, and share...” another concerned educator asked from the back of the room.

I purposively left off the end of her query here because, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter what content on the “device” a “hacker” would “share.”

“Sounds like the birth of Skynet,” another educator added, referencing the artificial intelligence system that all but destroys humankind in the “Terminator” movie franchise.

These aren’t new fears, of course. Mention these concerns to any tech giant and they’ll simply brush them off as the public relations price of doing business.

Just this past week, fears over Google’s location tracking services surfaced following an in-depth AP investigation.

Here’s what we thought: Don’t want Google to track your every movement? Simply turn off your location data, right?

Wrong.

It so happens that Google is recording your movements even when you tell it not to, even when you whittle down through all of the security protocols on your device to find “location services” and turn it off.

It’s still on.

Well, sort of.

What the AP investigation found was that some services continue to store your locations even after you’ve set the privacy settings to forbid Google and other apps on your device from doing so.

We know when we want Google to track our movements. Google Maps is a good example. If you’ve turned off location services, and then open their Maps app, you’ll be prompted share location data. Google will tell you that Maps simply won’t work as well with location data turned off.

This is a purposeful action we take. We’re telling Google “it’s ok to track my movements.” It’s the stuff Google and other services are tracking without our permission that’s not ok.

We like the ease-of-use these apps provide. But it shouldn’t stop us from being vigilant in protecting our privacy, whether we’re in a classroom or trying to make our way around town.

Who knows? Maybe that vigilance will help us stave off a future Skynet attack.

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com