Google: A Policy Primer Case Study
By using Google, you agree to the Terms of Service (and any additional terms) provided by Google Inc. (Google Inc., 2014).
Furthermore, Google is not required to individually notify its users of any changes to their policies – users are expected to
regularly monitor the terms.
Jane Obscurus is a 25 year-old female living in Incognitus, Australia.
She is a typical, run-of-the-mill, average Jane.
One of these days, Jane wants to be famous.
What Jane Gave Google.
Jane Sets Up with Google
Jane needs a Google account to access some content, for example, 18+ on YouTube (Google Inc., 2014).
So she sets up an account and fills in her basic info:
o Date of birth
o Email address
o Telephone number
o Credit card
She also sets up a new email account with Gmail so everything can be in the same place.
Plus a Little Visual Data.
Jane has uploaded a photograph to Google Drive. This photo is a little racy and has been uploaded purely for her own
posterity… and perhaps to email to her boyfriend.
Jane is tagged in a video on YouTube from the night she had a bit too much to drink. Jane also frequently watches YouTube
clips about cats... it is her secret pleasure to watch hours and hours of cats.
Google uses facial recognition technology to “compare known faces against a new face and see if there is a probable match
or similarity” (Google Inc., 2016b).
“Google keeps search requests? It does.
Curiosity is monitored, producing a
searchable database of the curious.”
Lessig, 2006, p. 204
What Google Collects.
o Hardware model
o Operating system
o Unique device identifiers
o Mobile network information (phone number and carrier)
o Search queries
o Telephone log information
o Phone number
o Type, time, date and duration of calls
o SMS routing information
o IP Address
o ‘Device event information’ so even turning her phone off is logged
Jane, like the rest of us, is inadvertently revealing personal, private, medical, professional and financial information each time
she ‘googles it’ (Barbaro & Zeller, 2006; Philipson, 2013).
Out of Context:
In the last week Jane has been busy, she:
o Googled ‘BDSM’ after reading a review of Fifty Shades of Grey
o Heard about syphilis on an episode of House and wanted to read up on it
o Purchased a cat costume for Halloween
As far as Google is concerned, Jane is a cat-costume-wearing, sadomasochist with a side of syphilis. As you can see, the
little bites of metadata, without the relevant context, can prove to be very misleading (Barbaro & Zeller, 2006).
Location, Location, Location.
Google Maps & GPS
Jane uses Google Maps to find her way to work from her new apartment – a cool feature lets Jane save these locations as
‘Jane Home’ and ‘Jane Work’.
IP Addresses, Android, and “Other Sensors”
When Jane uses Google services, they can glean location information using her IP address, GPS, nearby devices and cell
phone towers, and if she is lucky they can access her phones accelerometer to determine how fast she is going (Google Inc.,
Collecting Jane’s Data
Google uses Jane’s information to:
o Provide, maintain, protect, improve and develop services
o “…to protect Google and our users”
o Provide relevant search results and ads
To really deliver the above, Google even analyses Jane’s personal emails.
“Our automated systems analyse your content (including emails) …” (Google Inc., 2014)
Sharing Jane’s Data
Personal information is sent for external processing to “affiliates or other trusted business or persons” who are “in compliance
Google can share personal information with other ‘companies, organisations or individuals’ if they believe that it is necessary
to (Google Inc., 2016a):
o Meet any law, regulation, or enforceable government request
o An investigation of a potential violation of the Terms of Service
o To stop fraud, security or technical issues
o Protect the rights, property or safety of Google or members of the public
Link ‘That’ to ‘This’
“In addition, we may replace past names associated with your Google Account so that you are represented consistently
across all our services” (Google Inc., 2016a).
So if Jane had previously changed her name, Google would still create a link between ‘that’ data and ‘this’ data.
“Google may associate your device identifiers or phone number with your Google Account” (Google Inc., 2016a). So without
even signing in, more pieces of data are being added to the pile with Jane’s name on it.
“We may combine personal information from one service with information, including personal information, from other Google
services…” (Google Inc., 2016a)
A Portrait of Jane.
What Google knows about Jane:
Google is sitting on a catalogue of dubious emails and questionable search queries that are linked to Jane’s name and IP
address in a database waiting to be discovered (Lessig, 2006).
o Full name
o Credit card number
o What she looks like (facial recognition)
o Her interests
o Medical history
o What devices she uses (phone, tablet, laptop)
o What her favourite website is
o Search habits
Google also probably knows Jane’s:
o The name of her primary school
o Sexual orientation
o Political affiliation
o Bra size
o Her cat obsession
o Her sexual preferences
o Ex-boyfriends new fiancé's ring size
“…after you delete information from our services, we may
not immediately delete residual copies from our active
servers and may not remove information from our backup
Don’t Be Like Jane.
Minimizing Your Trail
Touted as a means to prevent organised crime and terrorism, Australia’s media retention scheme keeps a record of every
search query, each website visit, every phone call, text message, and email that Jane makes (Tucker, 2015). This information
waits patiently in a database until someone in the police force, customs, Border Protection Service, or other law-enforcement
agencies, decides to take a look (Tucker, 2015). Much of this data is collected by Google.
This data collection is supposedly for providing accurate advertising to potential consumers, but the future consequences of
each little piece of seemingly innocuous information that is stored, compiled and aggregated are yet to materialise (Barbaro &
To prevent your email address and search history from being linked…
o Log out of your email account after using it and clear your browser’s cookies before going to other websites
o Don’t use the same search engine website as your email address (e.g. Google search engine and a Gmail account)
o Use a different browser for accessing emails and for using a search engine
(Privacy Rights Clearing House, 2015)
Barbaro, M., & Zeller, T. (2006, August 9). A Face Is Exposed for AOL Searcher No. 4417749. New York Times. http://w2.eff.org/Privacy/AOL/exhibit_d.pdf
Google Inc., (2014). Terms of Service. Google. Retrieved from: https://www.google.com.au/intl/en/policies/terms/regional.html
Google Inc., (2016b). Technologies: How Google Uses Pattern Recognition. Google. https://www.google.com.au/intl/en/policies/technologies/pattern-recognition/
Google Inc., (2016c). Transparency Report: Requests for User Information. Google. Retrieved from:
Lessig, L. (2006). Privacy. Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace, Version 2.0. pp. 200-233. Basic Books.
Philipson, J. (February 1, 2013). How Google Became a Verb. The Lingua File: The Language Blog. http://www.thelinguafile.com/2013/02/how-google-became-
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (2015). Privacy and the Internet: Travelling in Cyberspace Safely. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. https://www.privacyrights.org/consumer-
Shervell, J. (2015). How Much Does Google Really Know About You? Visua.ly. http://visual.ly/how-much-does-google-really-know-about-you
Tucker, H. (2015, October 8). New Data Retention Laws Begin Today, this is What You Need to Know. News.com.au. http://www.news.com.au/technology/online/new-