Overheard on CNN.com: Can tinfoil hats be stylish? Google's fine print clouds privacy
Frida Ghitis says online hoarding of our private information is not something we can afford to "dismiss."
February 10th, 2012
05:57 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Can tinfoil hats be stylish? Google's fine print clouds privacy

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

"I've trained a bunch of pigeons. I write down my query, attach it to the pigeon's leg, and send it out into the world. Sometimes, they even come back. I'm finding the results about as relevant as using Bing or Yahoo. I'm a little worried, though I have no evidence to back this up at all, that they sometimes alight on the windowsill of a third party, who gets to see what I'm searching about. It's unsettling, really."

Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer/correspondent, wrote an opinion piece about Google's new privacy policies, and about the future of information security. Our readers had lots of thoughts about that.

Google knows too much about you

Readers debated how much users should worry about where their information is stored.

MeJustMe: "I am reminded of the cartoon of two pigs talking as they are loaded on to a truck. One pig says to the other, 'This is so great we have a warm place to sleep all the food we can eat and now we are going on a trip. And it is all for free!' The caption underneath reads if it is free and always will be free then you are not the customer.
Sums up Facebook and Google nicely. Yes it is free to you but who are you or your data being sold to and for what purpose?"

Some people said the fear was going too far, and referenced tinfoil hats, but others said there is much to worry about.

Cal78: "Your ISP knows every site you go to as well. Your phone company knows everybody you called. Your bank knows everywhere you've used your debit card. Better put on the tinfoil hats."

allanhowls: "Or, you could demand that that which actually belongs to you stay your property. Change the laws so that personal information stays personal, rather than bending over like the sheep you are."

maff: "I dont think it's tinfoil at all. If you live in the inner city and you sleep with the front door open, eventually you're gonna get robbed. In modern society we are in compromised and vulnerable positions. We have faith in people we have never seen before. And now with data mining and these supercomputers, all that information can be consolidated, and eventually it will be. You see the direction technology is going. I'm not saying now, but it's inevitable."

Do you read the fine print? How do you feel about Facebook's privacy versus Google?

KevinHee: "From the perspective of an average customer, I am comfortable with Facebook but not Google's practice. Why? Mainly because of how these two companies obtain your data. I make the conscious decision to maintain my Facebook profile, post my own pictures, and like what my friends are doing. It's a proactive decision to share the data 'socially,' and if I want I can close my Facebook account tomorrow. Google is more malicious in that the company creates great services that you want to use, like search, e-mail, YouTube, etc., and then 'steals' user data with the vast majority of us unconscious about it. I didn't choose to let Google read my e-mail, I didn't choose to let Google remember what I searched, I didn't choose to let YouTube be aware of what videos I watched so that they can sell my data to advertisers. In this regard, Google has already become evil, long time ago."

Josef Ferguson: "Yes. You did. When you didn't bother to read through that TOS document and instead just scrolled to the bottom and clicked 'agree,' you were, in fact, agreeing to all these things."

Some said you have to expect some information gathering with free services.

Paul Pehrson: "It's probably good to remember that Google provides all of those services to you free of charge. They make their money by mining the information you share with them so they can serve you relevant ads. The old adage, 'There ain't no free lunch' applies here. You apparently like Google's services enough to use them, but you don't think they should make the money that makes providing those services profitable for them? That doesn't quite seem fair either."

One reader said there is much to fear.

RatDiem: "Google is only part of the problem, your ISP knows the address of every Web page you visit because the traffic goes through their servers and you're a fool if you think they don't record the HTTP requests as well as the other traffic and they aren't the only ones watching. The telecoms who sit astride the Internet hubs also have their fingers in your pie and the government can and does use the Patriot Act to access those records via National Security letters, which effectively muzzle the telecoms from discussing what is happening. The simple fact is that virtually everything you do on the Internet and via your cell phones is being monitored. There is an interesting program on Frontline from PBS called 'Spying on the Homefront' that elaborates on some aspects of this. I know this sounds like paranoia but I am afraid it is not. Do some research on your own while you still can. I worked for 18 years as a system administrator and data analyst for the state. Believe me, it is easy to monitor Internet traffic, e-mail and telephone communications and it is being done on a routine basis."

This reader said other places have your information, too.

neoneocon: "Google is a bit of a straw man. Working at both a bank and insurance company, I knew much more about you and your family than Google or Facebook do."

Others joked about the dangers.

Claghorn: "What no one realizes is that google is actually the advance intelligence gathering arm of the aliens who will invade later in 2012. With total knowledge of everyone, everywhere on Earth, the invasion will be unstoppable!"

ChuckBd: "They better hurry. The world ends in December."

junque: "I, for one, welcome our new alien overlords."

This person said they worry that someday, people will be forced to store all their information offsite, in the "cloud," which could make them vulnerable.

Reeely: "This is why I forbid our company to use 'the cloud.' It puts our data on some computers, somewhere, with unknown other data, and unknown security holes, accessed by who knows, maintained in backups for who knows how long and where. As soon as NASA or the White House can no longer be hacked, I might start to trust security. In the meantime, keep sending me those never-ending, monthly security updates."

JustDone: "Companies like Microsoft are forcing the cloud on us - their goal is for computers to no longer have hard drives and run exclusively from the cloud. Apple is trying to do the same thing. My guess is in 20 years (I only hope it takes that long), you won't be able to buy a hard drive of any kind and computers won't run on them. Then every keystroke will be recorded and just waiting on a hacker or nosy government."

Some said they don't see what could be done instead.

captbeefhart: "So what's the alternative? An anonymizer? Something like TOR? Try turning off cookies (an insidious invasion of privacy older than Google) and see how far you get. ... Look at the doubleclick Wikipedia page. It's about advertising and it's owned by Google, and some see it as spyware. Big Brother is here and his name is Google. Again, what is an alternative?"

tlhwraith: "The article clearly stated some very viable alternatives like a law that completely scrubs your information on request (or some subset of it). Another option is to legally limit how data is bought and sold to third parties (for instance, some kind of option that says who your information can be given to explicitly). The point being as ubiquitous as Google and Facebook have become, there's still ways of protecting personal privacy."

Some added Apple to their list.

CleaverName: "I am tired of people complaining about privacy that use Gmail and post pictures on Facebook. It is you who lets out the information to show. Stop using these things. Stop complaining about Apple products and slave labor. Do something if you are mad like stop buying their products. Same for privacy and Facebook. You have the power to do something but we are all too lazy and really don't care but like to complain."

Phantom240: "Exactly. I hate Apple (for reasons other than their abysmal treatment of foreign laborers), so I don't use any of their products. The best way for a people to impact a company is to stop using it. When their profits plummet, they'll be forced to try something else."

But others said there's a reason why these services became popular in the first place.

IvoryTowerScientist: "For the record, complaining that Google has all of your Picasa pictures and all of your Gmail stored away on servers like it is a bad thing is kind of ridiculous. That's the entire point of those services: our data stays on their servers so we do not lose them. That is the exact, stated reason of these services' existence."

denver3: "Yes! This. This is it. People seem to forget that, ultimately, all your digital data is stored physically. And if the physical storage isn't under your desk, it's somewhere else. You don't have to buy an enormous hard drive and back it up all the time to store all your e-mail when you use webmail because someone else is doing it for you. That's the point!"

This reader said they fear for the future.

Gavin O'malley: "I am glad I am in the autumn of life ... I can't stand where we are headed ... freedoms are slipping away, privacy is right next to freedom, our war machine grows daily ... bankers and Wall Street types making way too much money, the middle class will soon be a thing of the past ...your house is no longer your best nest egg ... unions getting attacked ... don't like unions ... go work in China...good luck young people...you will need it and more."

What do you think? Share your opinion in the comments area below and in the latest stories on CNN.com. Or sound off on video via CNN iReport.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.

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Filed under: Google • Overheard on CNN.com • Technology
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. 4theloveofearth

    Reblogged this on 4theloveofearth.

    February 10, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. gung hoe

    What ya trieing to be ben franklin.Wear it out in a lightning storm brightboy just make sure you have one of them new fangled bulbs with ya,that way ya dont waste electricity ok jethro.

    February 10, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    Tinfoil can ward off aliens.

    February 10, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mistake

    People who are paranoide should not own a computer so that way the paranoid ones can sleep better at night . If people are so worried about these things than they should just cease to exist or dont touch a single anything at all!!!

    February 10, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

      People that cannot decide how "paranoid" should be spelled, should not have a computer either. These individuals fall in yet another group, which we do not have time right now to discuss. 🙂

      February 11, 2012 at 12:58 am | Report abuse |
  5. Mistake

    @jeff frankfarter you so perfect are you not?

    February 11, 2012 at 3:16 am | Report abuse |
  6. gung hoe

    @ mistake actually jeff is perfect,thats because hes smart hes republican.

    February 11, 2012 at 8:36 am | Report abuse |
    • TORI ©

      @gunghoe, see my message to@bobcat below. Hope life is kind to you! Bye for now.

      February 11, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
  7. jon

    Privacy is possible if we keep liberal out of power in Washington

    February 11, 2012 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
  8. Kathy

    Get a clue! Both sides are in on it.

    February 11, 2012 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
  9. bobcat (in a hat) ©

    Tin foil hats aren't really very stylish, but in the case of the some of the individuals that post here, "are" a necessary item of their wardrobe.

    February 11, 2012 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • TORI ©

      @bobcat, I so wanted to say farewell for now to you and the others. I am leaving for Paris tomorrow to finish the semester at Sorbonne and work for Le Monde. So nice to get to talk with you. My mom may show up on the blogs with the handle @dazzle. Keep an eye out for her and if necessary teach her the ropes. @leeintulsa has my email address and I will send an email to him,letting him know who can have it. See you again, I hope. Au re voir!!

      February 11, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • nsaidi

      Congrats Tori! That's very awesome. Have fun in Paris, and thanks for posting all. (I'm a bit of a hat fanatic, so I might need tinfoil to complete the collection at the very least.)

      February 11, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. TORI ©

    Yikes paranoia crazies. Shouldn't own any type of electronic device. Read TOS before signing on to any web site including this one. Some are certainly donning tin foil hats today, not a good fashion statement.

    February 11, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobcat (in a hat) ©

      Hey TORI

      How have you been ? I've been dodging those evil rays all day. I just can't find my tin foil hat.
      How does one come up with the belief that what they search or what they post is between them and their PC ?

      February 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  11. dreamer96

    Funny you act like this is something new....but it goes back to the being of civilization and townships and little kingdoms when merchant travelers delivered their goods around a region and listen to the local conversation and reported back to the various leaders...kings..religious leaders...wealth business men, and large land owners...

    The U.S. has had many laws in place but just since WWI and WWII and the Cold War and 911...all of these created laws on dealing with spies from other countries, companies....fund raisers for foreign armies....collection of a various list on information...even the CIvil War had spies watching the troop movements and what was loaded on the countries train systems...listening to the telegraph lines...watching the sea ports and water ways....If you were taking pictures of our military bases..or watching them, or collecting radio traffic...

    even home phone calls around our military bases are subject to monitoring under national security umbrella laws...You should read up on Curtis Lemay sometime.. and how Lemay and John F. Kennedy got along...

    A little history note.. If it had been up to Curtis Lemay ..We would have stormed the Cuban beaches, and ran right into a wave of small tactical nuclear weapons, brought there by the USSR, and under orders to use them if invaded, and the U.S. would have ended up in a full nuclear exchange with the USSR...Ever watch "Fail Safe"...Curtis Lemay was the inspiration for a few military characters in that movie..

    February 11, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. TORI ©

    I guess these people think that their secrets are between them and their PC's. HA!

    February 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  13. 2012

    hey bobcat whats yours and toris excuse for not wearing yours idiots nobody cares

    February 11, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mary

    Hi, Kathy

    February 11, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ma & pa

    Aliens here from beginning and as diverse as us. Diversity is all through universe of worlds. When we can agree to be peaceful, live and let live, maybe the peaceful ones will draw straws to see who gets to land and congratulate us on our 'impossible' achievement of friendship. Quaint thought.

    February 11, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
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