Thursday, February 14, 2013

Have you been Scroggled?

Microsoft are currently running advertising promoting with the catchy term Scroogled. Not quite sure of the meaning they place on Scroogle, but it does sound like a combination of Screwed and Googled. The term Scroogled is referring to Google scanning all your emails to enable them to provide ads which relate to the content in your email. You can disable the feature but you can't remove the advertising without using Google's paid service.
Microsoft's Scroogle ad. (

Microsoft does have a point that Google does use algorithms to check for words in your Gmail email and deliver ads based on the content of your emails and those from people you know. We have no idea if the algorithm simply uses the information in the emails dynamically or whether or not Google is also building a profile of words and the connections between the words and people you know. I hope they're not but there is no way to know what is done with the data.

Keep in mind that with both Google and Microsoft's that all your contacts and emails are kept online. That means if your account gets hacked all of the contact details you store online and the information in the emails can be harvested. I have no doubt the authorities have the ability to access online email accounts if required. Even if you didn't use an online service for your emails it is still possible that all emails you send and receive could be copied and stored offline for access by authorities. In effect, anything you send via an online service may be being recorded.

Most people will say if I'm not doing anything wrong it doesn't matter, but what they don't wish to acknowledge is if police and other authorities have access to your information, then potentially so do criminals and some of those criminals may have also gained positions within government and law enforcement agencies. Those people can and will use your information if it assists them.

In our modern society it is almost impossible to live without using electronic means for communication. We felt comfortable to a degree with telecommunications companies because we paid for a service and notionally the law seems to give us assurance (real or otherwise) that our information was protected.

Now with private companies having access to your communications and data (
you've given them authority over your data), often you don't know what that means and how your data can be used. Law enforcement agencies don't have to go to the same degree of effort to access your information in this new age and these private companies usually have thousands of staff with access to your data, plus many offshore support groups in low paying countries also potentially with access to your data. With low rates of pay it costs much less to bribe someone than it would in a higher paying country.

The most obvious affect I can see from giving too much data to third party companies is you end up paying more for products and services. If a business knows you need something by the information you provide, you've effectively given away your negotiation opportunities. Also I've seen online ads advertising "cheapest" travel insurance and when I checked they were hundreds of dollars more expensive. If you're not aware of what is happening online there's a good chance you'll get ripped off even by legitimate businesses.
Personally I keep all my contact details offline where possible. I do run my email online but through a smaller hosting company. My thinking is data only becomes valuable when it is huge and easy to mine. I don't keep client information online as I feel that is a potential exposure of client information and to me, that isn't appropriate. The information kept online (typically web sites and blogs) is information that I happily share and I consider to be relatively low risk. Standing in the last state election where I couldn't use my PO Box but had to use my address I considered to be more intrusive than what Google does. Every day businesses are collecting information on us when we shop, bank or do almost anything. Likewise the government is collecting whatever information they can justify. It is a risk and all we can do is hope the risk doesn't come back to bite us.

Kelvin Eldridge
Call 0415 910 703 for computer support.
Servicing Doncaster, Templestowe, Eltham and the surrounding area. 

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