Reason No. 2: Google knows what you searched last summer
Not long ago, Google was the cuddly search engine that could. Now it's a bona fide data monster, and your personal information is its meat.
Google's pending acquisition of DoubleClick has shed new light on just how much data the G-men control, from search histories to e-mail, calendars, blogs, videos, and more. So notable is Google's stranglehold over personal data that even Microsoft claims to offer more privacy than Google, which is enough to tell you the universe has shifted.
The question is, What will Google do with this vast trove of information? Global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer points out that Google alone challenged the Department of Justice in January 2006 when the department demanded millions of search terms from the top four engines. And Google did voluntarily agree to anonymize the search data it retains after 18 months.
But privacy advocates are far from convinced. The next time everyone's favorite Uncle asks the company to display its assets, Google might not prevail. And if Google were ever acquired or chopped into bits, that data could be its most valuable commodity.
Worse, Google Desktop may represent a security risk to the data on your hard drive. In a Ponemon Institute survey of IT pros conducted in June, more than 70 per cent believe Google Desktop is still vulnerable to cross-site scripting attacks.
The solution? Be very careful about how you use Google products. When in doubt, log out.
Paranoia Meter: 4
Reason No. 1: Your boss is watching
Ever get the feeling your boss -- or your boss's IT department -- is lurking through the network, spying on you? Odds are quite good your instinct is right. And the bigger the organization, the more likely it monitors employees' e-mail, IM, or Web surfing.
According to a 2005 survey by the American Management Association and The ePolicy Institute, three out of four companies monitor where their employees go on the Web, and more than half scan their e-mail. One out of four organizations report having terminated employees for e-mail abuse, and another 25 per cent have canned workers for inappropriate Web surfing. Think that blog is safe for speaking your mind? Think again. Two percent of companies have fired workers over offensive blog entries, according to the 2006 version of the survey.
And then there's background checks (80 per cent of businesses conduct them, according to Spherion), drug tests (50 percent), surveillance cameras, and that GPS transponder in the company car.
This doesn't mean employers are evil. They do have a lot to worry about: trade secrets leaking out via e-mail, employee misrepresentation, harassment suits stemming from inappropriate e-mail or Web surfing, folks just plain goofing off on the company dime.
"There is enormous pressure on companies to expand their workplace surveillance," notes Frederick Lane, author of <i>The Naked Employee: How Technology Is Compromising Workplace Privacy</i>.
"The biggest problem is that increased surveillance inevitably collects non-work-related information about employees and offers employers more opportunity to make employment decisions -- hiring, firing, promotion, etc. -- based on criteria other than qualifications and job performance," Lane says.
"Workplace privacy"? That's just another oxymoron.
Paranoia Meter: 4.