Welcome to the world of information aggregation

February 13, 2012

Google Info CollectorRecently, Google announced noteworthy modifications to its information privacy policies.

One of the key changes being implemented is Google’s plan to combine essentially all of the information it collects from individuals through all of its service offerings (the Google search engine, YouTube, Gmail, and the Google+ social network, etc.).

The Google decision reflects a now common approach to aggregation of personal information. 

This trend toward information aggregation has profound potential implications for individuals.

Each of the services and products offered by Google provides an important source of personal information about individual Internet users.

Every time you use the Google search engine or any of the other Google products, the company collects information about you and your Internet usage. 

Companies that offer a range of online services have numerous opportunities to collect information about individuals.

By storing and aggregating all of the information regarding an individual collected from those multiple sources, a company can create a comprehensive collection of personal information from all Internet users.

That collected information can be used for the benefit of individuals, by helping them to find information and other online materials that are of interest to them more quickly and easily, for example.

The aggregated information can, however, also be used for purposes that intrude on personal privacy and would be unwelcome by the individuals.

Even if individuals are comfortable with a commercial company such as Google having access to their personal information, those collections of personal information can be hacked by criminals or accessed by government authorities, results which could threaten the individuals involved.

It is important to note that Google is not alone in its efforts to collect a vast amount of personal information from multiple sources.

For example, social media such as Facebook and Twitter routinely collect personal information from millions of people.

As a result of the enormous commercial value of this information, the trend toward more extensive collection and use of online personal information will continue far into the future.

In this world of active aggregation of personal information, individual Internet users should be informed and cautious.

Review periodically the information privacy policies of all of the online service providers you use.

Do not treat each online action as a distinct and individual transaction with regard to personal information.  Instead, assume that the personal information that you divulge in each transaction is part of a broad mosaic.

Be aware that much of the information you provide through individual transactions and activities will be collected and aggregated, thus each time you reveal personal information online, that information will be adding to the substantial collection of information about you that is already available. 

Finally, recognize that even if you are comfortable with the organization which is receiving your personal information, that organization will likely not be the only party to ultimately have access to the information.

Do not assume that personal information you provide will only be accessed by the party to whom you initially provide it.