RLST Post #8: How Much Does Google Know About You?

Since I work in web application development, it behooves me to keep up on the latest in browser technology. I noticed a blog post by Google, posted on hacker news, titled High Performance Networking in Google Chrome.

Cool Chrome Stuff

The thing I found the coolest in this article was the way that Chrome used heuristics to start loading pages before the user has finished typing the full url.

  • Users hovering their mouse over a link is a good indicator of a likely, upcoming navigation event, which Chrome can help accelerate by dispatching a speculative DNS lookup of the target hostname, as well as potentially starting the TCP handshake. By the time the user clicks, which takes ~200 ms on average, there is a good chance that we have already completed the DNS and TCP steps, allowing us to eliminate hundreds of milliseconds of extra latency for the navigation event.
  • Typing in the Omnibox (URL) bar triggers high-likelihood suggestions, which may similarly kick off a DNS lookup, TCP pre-connect, and can even pre-render the page in a hidden tab!
  • Each one of us has a list of favorite sites that we visit every day. Chrome can learn the subresources on these sites and speculatively pre-resolve and perhaps even pre-fetch them to accelerate the browsing experience. And the list goes on…

If you visit chrome://predictors in your chrome browser (Turn on “filter zero confidences”), you can see the sites that Google thinks you’re going to visit. Of course, this is all stored locally, but it got me started thinking about what other kinds of data Google is keeping track of without me knowing.

Google Dashboard

Google has been in trouble for this kind of thing before, and they’ve very much improved their transparency. Google Dashboard gives a listing of the knowledge that Google has about you, and gives options to delete that data from their servers.

For example, I can see that Google Chrome has 1068 “Omnibox data” stored for me, which I assume is things like the predictors I linked to above.

Google also has 73 of my passwords on file. They’re encrypted, of course, but that’s still access to my life that’s stored on Google’s Chrome Sync servers.

They know that I have 75 apps installed on my Android phone. I even use Google Analytics on my sites, so unless you’re using NoScript, Google knows that you just visited this site.

What does this mean?

This means I give a lot of my information to google. Especially since I carry an android device in my pocket with me all day, I assume Google could potentially locate me via my devices if they so desired. But Google doesn’t gain anything by doing this – they know that transparency and security are the things that people trust them for. Google knows when I’m in class, since I use Google Calendar.

Funny enough, I use adblock in chrome, so really I guess I’m stealing all of these services? I see it as customizing my experience. As a google fan, I think it’s wonderful that I can give the details of my life to Google, and they’ll help me organize my life.

Speaking of religious studies, I think I’m happy sharing everything with Google – at least they have oversight committees, compared to most deities.


Edit: I just found this fascinating article on some potential upcoming facebook privacy changes, if you’re interested.

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