Google Wave Concerns

Google Wave Logo (c)Google, fair use assumed

I remember when I tested Google Chrome for the first time, there was this tiny, unobtrusive checkbox saying something on the lines of “I agree that my usage data is transmitted to Google”. It was already checked, just for my convenience… I didn’t test Chrome for very long, you may imagine and I sure like anything unchecked that little box! Whilst Chrome is “only” monitoring your browsing habits, Google Wave will convert you into an open book that Google can read, copy and distribute freely…

So what is Google Wave? In a nutshell (ya,ya, ya, I know that this is one of my favourite expressions, and? So, in a nutshell, Google Wave is a shared, real time, collaborative, web based application that aims to replace email, chat, social networking, wikis, documents, photo and video exchange, instant messaging and the like by combining them all in one single application, called Google Wave. It was first announced 28th May 2009, at the Google I/O Conference at the Moscone Center, San Francisco, USA. It is a project, not a finished product, that is supposed to be released publicly somewhen later this year (2009). I/O, btw, stands either for “Input/Output” or for “Innovation in the Open”, depends whom you are listening to…

How Google Wave works All information is stored and accessed on a web server, users create so-called waves, hence the name, that contain and share multi media enabled information and connect with other applications like blogs and social networking sites. They are conversations and multi media documents at the same time. Everybody, that has access to the wave, the participants, can add, edit and delete content and also add, block and delete other participants. Waves are live and updated in real time on the participants screens and internet devices. They have a history and playback features to enable new participants to the wave to catch up with it or to answer the old question of “Who the h… did this?” If you want to sign up for the Google Wave Sandbox, just click! On your own risk, and please, before you get carried away, read the rest of this blog post.

Google Wave and Privacy Concerns Remember the little word “ web based” in the previous paragraph? That is where the security and privacy concerns start kicking in. You use, or will use, better said, Google Wave from your computer BUT all information is stored on Google owned web servers, and they keep offline backups for an unknown amount of time. At the moment it is not clear if there will be the possibility for companies and the like to run it on their own servers. But for the common internet user it means that Google, finally, gets all our information, nicely bundled, in one place. Information collected includes, but is not restrained to: account activity, interaction with user interface elements and links, IP address, other log information, images, videos, stored messages, attachments, contact information, browsing and click behaviour and so on. Google could use the collected information not only to provide the said service and to backup your data, but also to adjust further services, like advertisement or to share this data with others.

The really scary part about this information collection is found in the Google Wave FAQ regarding What will happen when you delete your Wave and or Google account?

“Any Waves which have other participants will to continue to exist in the Google Wave system, including all of the content that you provided in those Waves. Any Wave for which you are the only participant will be deleted from the system within 60 days and may remain in our offline backup systems.” WOW! No word for how long they will remain in the “offline backup systems” and who will have access to them! In clear words, all what you put into a Google Wave, will be backed up for an unknown time and these backups are accessible to Google, its employees and everybody Google gives access to.

Who else has access to Google Wave Data It doesn’t stop at Google, data might also be shared with the following entities: Businesses that are involved in running Google Wave, like hosting, internet providers, sub-contractors, developers of third party apps, etc. Law enforcement or others when Google believes that they are required by law to give them access. Everybody that is employed to enforce Google’s Terms of Service or policies, to protect Google or others against harm and many more that may have a “good reasons” in Google’s eyes. In one word, Google keeps the right to share our data with everybody they deem appropriate. That refers to personal data, non-personal information may, additionally, shared with basically everybody. Another privacy concern are the third party applications providers and developers. Each of them has their own privacy policy and it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the everyday user, to keep track of all the “watchers” of a wave. These third party applications might collect, share and re-distribute data on their own account and might have full or limited access to all your Google account info, depending on the app used/ installed. As any wave participant can ad apps and extensions to the wave, one can imagine how difficult it is to keep track of privacy issues. Difficult? I would say nearly impossible!

Does Google Wave scare the hell out of me? You bet it does, for several reasons: Data Security, Google can be hacked, has happened before. For the latest story have a look at this Reuters article about Was Google hacked? And also the fact that all this data is concentrated in one hand makes me shiver. In German we have a saying that “Knowledge is power.” The knowledge accumulated by Google gives them, and everybody associated with them, already an incredible power over everybody that uses the internet. How much more will that be the case when Google Wave keeps all data handy in one place? For Googles involvement with the American government, click the link.

Will I ever use Google Wave? You bet also! I have already signed up – but and this is a huge BUT I will be very careful what kind of information I put into a wave. As they say, knowledge is power, knowledge about Google products is important to protect ourselves from the Big Brother Google and to limit its powers.

Google Wave Web Site Google Privacy Center Pin It If you like this blog post and found it helpful, why not share it with your preferred social network? Handy links and bookmarklets above ^^^ 😉

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