Google’s new privacy policy?

I got an e-mail saying that Google would be updating it’s privacy policy as of March 1st this year.  Normally such e-mails would probably go straight into the bin, but I recall seeing something about this newly updated privacy policy in the news, so I decided to take a look.

First of all, the e-mail doesn’t actually contain the new privacy policy.  You have to click through to a website, and then from there, follow another a link, in order to find the actual privacy policy wording.

I have a feeling that companies intentionally make privacy policies as reader un-friendly as possible in order to perhaps mask their true nature?  The new Google privacy policy comes in at 2,258 words, which is long even by my verbose standards.  While it seems like they have done their best to keep it simple, I can’t really make sense of what the actual changes are or how they use my information.  Google says “We’ll better understand which version of Pink or Jaguar you’re searching for and get you those results faster”.  Yes, I appreciate it that when I type in “New World” into Google I get the locations and phone numbers for the nearest supermarkets, not Mallick’s “The New World”, or stuff about monkeys with prehensile tails.  Google knowing who I am and my browsing history makes life easier for me in some ways.  However, it also means some information may be more difficult for me to access or find, simply because it’s not part of my normal internet usage routine.

I also have a feeling that Google tends to get away with stuff, because unlike Facebook (at least for me), we trust Google.  We think of Google as the benevolent information overlord, who wants to help us find what we want, give us efficient e-mail and other services.

I am not one of those people who is exceptionally private (hence, this blog), nor am I exceptionally paranoid that people are stealing my personal information and using it to do terrible things behind my back, however, I do fear a world where that kind of thing happens and no one can do anything about it.

So, can I wean myself off Google products?  What alternatives are there?  And, should I be concerned about Google’s ethics on my privacy and personal information? I have no idea.  But thinking about these kinds of questions can’t hurt.

I’ve just realised lately I have been writing a lot about technology and how it’s impact on society.  It’s certainly not a topic I am particularly an expert in, but it does interest me.  I am sure there are other people with a great deal more actual knowledge on the topic than me, but what is this blog if not a place where I can talk a bunch of shit without any real facts to back it up?

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personal correspondence: planned obsolescence?

I generally use Mac Mail (.app) for most of my correspondence requirements, however I also have been known to correspond via the archaic handwritten letter or postcard method form time to time.  However, when I am in my office, something about the VUW firewall or servers blocks my Gmail SMTP server, so I can’t send mail from my personal account.  Often I will just use my VUW staff e-mail and gmail accounts interchangeably, however if I want to send e-mail from my gmail account while in my office, I must use the gmail web interface. I have actually spoken to University ITS about this and they seem to fix it so I can use the outgoing Gmail server for a day, and then it doesn’t work again the following day.  So, I use gmail.com, which has recently undergone some kind of redesign.  The gmail.com redesign doesn’t irritate me quite so much as the new version of Exchange Webmail, which I abhor yet am forced to use to check my University mail away from my laptop or iMac, however, there is one feature of the new gmail web interface which disquiets me.

Now, whenever I type an e-mail to, for example, my mother, or my sweetie, or my best pal, gmail suggests including several other people in the e-mail.   I feel as if this is some kind of subliminal push from Google to end personal correspondence between two individuals.  It’s as if Google is implying that sending a message to one individual person is a waste of time, that instead you should include 10 other people in your communication.  While I suppose the engineers and whatnot at Google simply intended this feature to be a useful organisational tool for users of Gmail, I find it has disturbing implications for the future of personal correspondence.  Gone are the days when it was normal to communicate with one person at a time, corresponding back and forth with sweet intimate letters like Vladimir and Véra Nabokov or Napoleon and Josephine.  I can just imagine Napoleon logging into his gmail account, writing “Je reviens en trois jours, ne te laves pas” and gmail suggesting he include 20 of his closest buddies in the e-mail, and then sharing it on Twitter and Facebook and Google+ as well.

Poor Josephine would have been mortified.  Or perhaps she would have been turned on?  Who knows, maybe she was a narcissistic exhibitionist…not that I’m saying everybody who uses Twitter or Facebook is.  But I think a certain expert did said something about these types of social networking tools as encouraging shallow interactions and dehumanizing communication.  And now Gmail is also on the obsolescence of personal communication bandwagon as well.

better living through technology

Ok, I am not particularly technology savvy, or technology incompetent.  I will admit to avoiding certain technologies (like Twitter) simply out of ignorance/conjecture.  However I know there are people out there who are even less tech competent than me and I want to share some of the more useful tricks I have learned to help manage my interactions with information and people via the international network.

There are a few different topics I could discuss, but today’s subject shall be the use of RSS feeds to keep up-to-date with the various blogs I enjoy reading.  Some of these are personal blogs, such as Amanda & Dain’s Earthship blog, and a news blog, like Pitchfork’s music news.

I’m a bit too scatterbrained to actually remember to check these individual websites on a regular basis.   So, if I don’t get these entries delivered to me I probably won’t remember to actively seek them out.  This is why I have discovered how to harness the power of various technologies to make my life easier.  The first of these technologies is Mac Mail, however you could probably use outlook or whatever mail client you use.

I have to maintain about 3 different e-mail addresses.  I have my McGill alumni “e-mail for life” address, my personal address, and my VUW staff e-mail.  I also have a VUW student e-mail I never check, and at least 1 old e-mail address I used from 2001 to 2009 that I just can’t bring myself to delete.    So, I like it that I can just open my mac Mail application and all of my e-mail from all of my gazillion addresses is delivered to the same inbox.  I have even colour coded it so I know which address it was sent to (blue for Gmail, green for Vic, red for McGill).  I hate using the webmail interfaces, especially since McGill and VUW upgradeD to some horrible clunky version of Outlook Express, and check 3 e-mail addresses every day using webmail is a pain in the ass.  So, I love my Mac Mail.

But the best thing about Mac Mail is that when I find a blog I like, I can click on the little “RSS” button, and then all of the new entries that are added to the blog are delivered right into my e-mail inbox!

This RSS function works with other e-mail programs and various “feed readers”, though I find getting all my information delivered directly to my e-mail is the best in my opinion. I also have my computer set up to automatically open Mail when I turn it on, so when I get up, I just have to push a button, go into the kitchen and put the kettle on, by the time I come back with my cup of tea all of the day’s information is conveniently displayed right in front of me.

I appreciate this technology in our ever inter-connected and complex world, where inefficient information seeking behaviour can effectively reduce your productivity.  Even if that information seeking behaviour is just reading about your friend’s knitting project.

So, I encourage you to click on that little “RSS” button there on the right hand side of this page, and the efficiency of your everyday information seeking behaviour will be significantly improved.  Which is something to be proud of.

In other news I have been listening to the new Shabaz Palaces’s album “Black Up” non stop since yesterday and it is fucking off the hook and I highly recommend it.

welcome to the jungle

I recently spent a few days at Rivertime Eco Lodge, about an hour outside of Vientiane.  Depsite it’s close proximity to the major population centre of Laos, it is truly like being a million miles away.  It’s in the jungle.  The closest village, Ban Thadindeng, is only a few hundred families.

I stayed in a little hut like this:

And swam in this river:

However, I think the coolest thing about staying in the jungle was the fact that I was able to get internet access via a 3g network!  Technology continually amazes me.

In addition to swimming in the river and sleeping in a hut, I also went to a karaoke bar with a bunch of farmers, ate a lot of delicious food, and did a bit of work.  Overall it was a lovely 2 days.

I have posted more photos here.

blogging on the bus

As I type this, I am sitting aboard a Coach Canada bus headed for Toronto, coming from Montreal.  I am traveling at approximately 100 kilometers and hour.  This bus is equipped with wi-fi.  Technology!!!

It seems very strange to me that I am able to access the internet without using any sort of telephone or dsl or ethernet cables involved at all.  I remember when I went to France, after being in West Africa for over a year, and suddenly there was wi-fi internet at the school I had gone to.  It blew my mind that you could access the internet without a cable!  However, that’s all become old news, and you still have to have the wireless router attached to a cable somewhere.  But here I am, posting to Word Press, totally wirelessly!  It’s amazing!

Anyway, I am heading back to Chicago for 2 reasons.  I got a job!  A job that requires me to re-enter Canada and apply for a work-permit at the “Point of Entry”.  Also, I don’t have any winter clothes in Montreal and want to get a few things from mom’s basement.

As of Monday, November 8th, I will be the new Branch Librarian at the Montreal Children’s Library Richmond Square Branch, located in Little Burgundy.  I’m so excited !!!

I also found a new place to live, sans cats, in St. Henri, a 15 minute walk from Richmond Square.  Everything seems to be working out in the best possible way for me right now.  The universe is finally aligning in my favour!!

I had a great Halloween, despite my boyfriend’s best attempts to sabotage the festivities.  In a last minute turn of events, I decided to be a dead lumberjack.

clumsylumberjack
happy halloween!

More pictures from the weekend can be found at:

http://picasaweb.google.com/baberahamlincln/Halloween2009