Google's Grand Data Heist?

Google has built an empire by collecting, storing and using the personal data of their users. Every email sent through Gmail; every document created with GoogleDocs; every purchase made with Google Wallet; every thing users do is stored on Google’s servers and used for whatever marketing purpose the company sees fit.

The model goes something like this: offer a “free” product and then just sit back and collect all the valuable data users turn over. Next, store this data forever and finally use the aggregate and historical data to develop behavioral and preference models to sell to advertisers.

But the cache of data that Google has amassed is apparently not enough. Now the company is seeking to get its hands on personal data from non-Google users and they want their current users to help to get it. Some might call it crowd sourcing a data heist.

Google’s new product, Google +, is their effort to enter the social media space. Incredibly, they have built a tool to import all the personal information obtained from users’ Facebook accounts onto Google servers–where it will remain forever and be used just as Google uses other data streams. Not just users’ own private information, rather all of the information on their Facebook accounts including names, addresses, phones numbers, interests, birthdays and websites of their friends.

Google’s Facebook Friend Exporter is typical of Google’s bull in a china closet attitude toward its competitors and privacy concerns of its users. It may be technically legal but it is only one step above Chinese hackers who search for such information.

CNET points out that the Exporter is a technical violation of Facebook’s Terms of Service. Of course, Facebook is fighting back by blocking the Chrome extension.

But more important than the squabble between Facebook and Google is the fact that users and their privacy are being caught in the crossfire. This latest episode seems to be yet another scheme in a long pattern of Google doing or taking whatever they want, regardless of privacy rights or laws.

Is it any wonder that Congress and the FTC have begun asking questions about these guys’ business practices?

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