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Does Google sell its users’ personal data? September 7, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings.

According to the German magazine Stern it does. Stern bought several data packets that contained several hundred address lists for 1.50 euros plus value-added tax. For another 12 cents they bought the user’s telephone number. They called up the people on the lists (just as an advertiser who buys the information would) and told them everything they knew about them and where they had gotten the information. Needless to say people were pissed.

The fact that Germany has very strict laws regarding the protection of personal data (the Bundesdatenschutzgesetz) does not seem to matter – or apply. The problem is that names, addresses, birth dates, occupations and other criteria can be freely bought and sold as long as the customer does not expressly oppose it. How can they oppose it if they aren’t aware it is happening?

The Schober Information Group is an information broker near Stuttgart. It compiles information such as age group, gender, size of your household and income from the 50 million entries of private individuals. All you apparently need is an e-mail address and some cash to buy access to the information. Advertisers (really, anyone – even identity thieves) can use the Schober Information Group search engine to pinpoint specific target groups. Approximately 400 employees sort and organize the flood of data at Schober. The company earned 140 million euros in sales last year.

To quote the article (my translation):

Cookies can lead to real names

Companies such as U.S.-based Doubleclick even track the browsing behavior of a user over several websites with the help of cookies. With technical finesse, the company saves its results in a single cookie and passes it on to advertisers. Google not only uses cookies in its search engines, but also links them with real names if the user has an e-mail account with Googlemail [a.k.a. Gmail]. The company also scans the contents of e-mails in order to gather comprehensive files over its customers and load suitable advertisements. Wouldn’t it be dreadful if Google and Doubleclick were to work together? It happened a long time ago – Google bought the company last year for 3.1 billion dollars

I don’t know about you, but it bothers me that information brokers like Schober and advertisers can buy my information from Google and Gmail. If this is happening in Germany you know full well it is also happening here in the U.S. And it isn’t just online sources. Every time you swipe your credit card, use one of your customer cards (such as a CVS card to get a good deal on nail polish or buy one vitamin get one free, just two examples from this week’s circular), fill out a sweepstakes form, or buy something online more and more information is being collected. There doesn’t appear to be anything anyone can do about it. Big Brother is watching you…



1. Corinne McKay - September 8, 2008

I think that the main thing to remember with Google is that they are still a for-profit company. They may be cooler or hipper or more ethical than many other companies, but they’re still in in for the money. For example with Google Translation Center, it’s a neat idea but I think the ultimate goal (or maybe this is just my conspiracy theory?) is to build an enormous base of translations that can be used to improve Google’s statistical machine translation programs.

I find that once you get into the nitty-gritty of privacy policies, especially from social networking sites (i.e. LinkedIn, Facebook, etc) that make most of their money through advertising, they are all pretty invasive. LinkedIn just altered their privacy policy to specify that they can use information that you provide during registration in order to target ads to you. I just chalk it up to life in the 21st century (and occasionally contemplate moving to a Tuff Shed in the mountains) but I agree that it’s worth thinking about.

2. andrew b - April 16, 2010


i am going to switch to a different email provider but that wont do anything because they ALREADY SOLD IT!

3. Denver DUI Lawyer - October 5, 2010

We definitely pay for convenience in the form of losing our privacy. It is a scary thought but how many people are actually willing to give up the ease and features of their personalized google accounts? I’m not even sure I am, so in the meantime you will have to look hard to find my name, birth date or address online.

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