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THOUGHT: Did Google cross the Privacy Line with its latest Release of Hangouts for Android?
Posted by Arne Hess - on Saturday, 16.11.13 - 17:22:02 CET under 09 - Thoughts - Viewed 15393x
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Ever, since we were talking about mobile texting, we were talking about unified messaging and the unified inboxes. This became even more important when E-Mail and MMS were added to mobile phones and since we have smartphones with its countless ways to communicate, it seems to be even more important. Looks like Google saw it the same and with the recently announced Google Hangouts update for Android, Google added some - on the first sight - "useful" features. For instance can Google Hangouts now be used for sending and receiving SMS and MMS messages. And it's even able to import existing messages from other SMS and MMS clients to make the move to Hangouts even more convenient.

This sounds incredible useful since it allows to quickly switch between SMS, MMS and Hangouts chats. Also new to Hangouts is the feature which shows now which device the user is on (PC, tablet or smartphone) as well as it shows Hangouts aka Google+ contacts if a user is on a voice call or video chat. Pardon me? It shows the world, and Google, if I'm on a call?

Let's recap what Google knew about me so far. It knew what I was searching for (Google Search) and it knew the content of the E-Mails I sent and received (Gmail). It also new my friends and business contacts (Gmail) and Google even knew the content of the documents I was working on, from Word, to Excel to PowerPoint (Google Drive). Google knew where I was, where I went to and where I planned to go to (Google Maps) and Google also knew the locations of my friends (Google Maps, now Google+). Google knew which music I was listening (Google Music), which books I read (Google Books) and which movies I watched (Google Movies). And there are countless other services, not listed here, which told Google even more about me.
So what's next? In future Google will know who's calling me or who I'm calling, with the help of Google+ where it will match MSIDNs with Google+ profiles and if I don't give Google my MSISDN for privacy reasons, with the new Google Hangouts feature it knows at least that I'm in a call anyway, even if it doesn't know who was calling me or who I was calling.

And instead of keeping this information for itself, to profile me even further (which is already bad enough), Google is now sharing this info with my Google+ contacts and shows them if I'm in a voice call on my phone or a video conversation via Hangouts. Sorry guys, but that's way too much information you have from me and that's way too much information you are sharing about me, with - let's say it this way - casual Internet friends I might be connected with on Google+ but which I never met in person. I'm sure, most (if not all) of my Google+ contacts are nice guys but can I be sure?

Google's informal corporate motto used to be "Don't be evil" but how can I trust an anonymous company "not to be evil"; if it stores most of my very personal data, without any knowledge what it will do with it or who will have access to it (think about PRISM and the NSA). No, I'm far from having anything to hide, not more than everyone else, but does the Internet need to really know if I'm in a call or video conference? That's far beyond any privacy.

Google catches the user with the "convenience factor" and this "social sharing is carrying" fun element and for sure all the features above are - in general - convenient and for sure it's fun stuff and useful to see my friends on a map, helping us to discover each other to meet for a coffee or a beer. But do I want that half the Internet knows where I'm at the moment? Yes, I'm also using Foursquare, because it's also fun to check-in, collect badges and possibly share my check-in with my friends and even the world - via Twitter or Facebook. But there are situations where I don't want that even close friends or family members know where I am and Foursquare still lets me control it. But thinking about a publicly accessible real time map of my location would be the worst case for me. Quite similar is the fact that Google informs my contacts that I'm in a call. What's next, also showing the phone number and name of the person I'm talking to?

In my humble opinion Google crossed a line now where useful and helpful services went too far and it's definitely nothing I will support. As a result I turned off the SMS and MMS feature in Hangouts but using the original clients instead. I also turned off the notification if I'm in a voice call or video conversation because that's no one's business. And last but not least I've deleted my phone number in Google+. Not because I don't want to be identified if I'm calling someone, but because I don't want that Google is recording it.

Can I be sure that Google respect it? I don't know, who knows what "turning off" a feature mean and it might be a typical German paranoia which is driving me here but safety and privacy first; doesn't matter how much convenience I will lose. At the end of the day it comes to the question if you will still feel comfortable with the platform you are using and I use this faith and trust every day more.

Cheers ~ Arne


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Posted by Annonymous on 16.11.13 - 17:52:52

Arne, the way you described and summarized it shows that Google indeed went too far! Wasn't aware of the consequences of the Hangouts update and also turned it off now! Thanks for sharing your concerns with us and keep up the great work!

Posted by Anonymous on 16.11.13 - 18:44:53

Switch to Lumia! Je ne regrette rien! Arne, you are an old Windows guy! Come back to the bright side of the force! :-)

Posted by freeman on 17.11.13 - 14:44:32

The problem with this article is it fails to mention all these options can be turned off. On Android for example you can replace them completely with alternatives. Yes you can even  replace Google search with Bing search which is available on Android if you wish. To complain that Google has crossed the line while posting on a website with urchinTracker now owned by Google and four social network likes +1's etc is hypocritical. If your going to complain about tracking at least do it on a site that doesn't use tracking.

Here is the solution to your problem turn the option off.  Personally I like the feature as it reduces the amount of calls I get while on a call.

So lets look at tracking and have a reality check for people like Arne, every-time you hit a webpage you are being tracked by multiple sources all depending on your platform, browser, site, search engine used, tracking software used and ad system used. Now if you have a problem with this this then opt to Firefox, an ad blocker and duck duck go. As for a mobile stick to your 1998 nokia 3330 or something, all mobile platforms track.  Though if everyone does this remember you will have to pay much more to use the internet.

Though Google has several differences between say Microsoft.  Every company and web site tracks your data and use it for marketing reasons or to sell to third parties for marketing reasons. Google actually allow you to use this data. This is Google web history and Google now.

The biggest questions about personal data revolve around Microsoft and Yahoos selling data to Obamas last campaign and how it was personalised. Yet people like Arne here would rather complain as they can't turn an option off.

Posted by For the tech savy on 18.11.13 - 01:33:12

I bought their new Nexus Phone. Was angry at how instead of messaging i got the hangout app. Also, when i went to enter contact details. It forced to me to syn contact with the gmail and did not allow me to enter it if i refused.

There are solutions to this however.

First of all.

Root your Phone. Rooting means you have access to everything in your phone even the parts that are disallowed like system files, memory kernels and apps that cannot be removed.

I rooted my phone. First thing, after i did that was remove "hangouts" and downloaded another basic messaging app. You can download app master after rooting to remove anything on your phone including google services.

To disable contact sync i went into settings - options - apps - google sync service( click this and disable it)

Hope this helps.

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