Is Google’s Dragonfly Treading on Thin Ice?
September 12, 2018
Google is a known power player in the online world of gaming, search, and ecommerce, which is both impressive and intimidating. With other online giants, like Facebook, facing scrutiny over privacy practices and data leakage, it leaves many internet users wondering about how much Google collects and shares. Well, a recent report on Google’s new search prototype, called Dragonfly, suggests that Google might be in some hot water of its own. The tool allegedly collects user phone numbers, a touchy subject for many global citizens wondering how safe the internet has become.
Google’s efforts to break into the Chinese digital airway have been recently successful, but the Chinese government has some special requests which Google will have to agree to before it launches. One of the ways China keeps tabs on citizen data and web usage is by linking identification cards and citizen numbers to accounts. Imagine having to show ID to create a Gmail account or needing to link your SSN to your Facebook page. In China, these are some of the ways that the government controls the information being shared and assures itself that online dealings are legal.
While the number linking and ID sharing in China might sound initially like a good idea to prevent internet fraud and crime, it’s skating on thin ice with humanitarians and activists, not to mention questioning the whole concept of democracy, something China isn’t as familiar with as one might hope. The idea of citizens being forced to supply pertinent personal information to social media sites and even online game sites is against human rights as many Westerners know them.
Google hasn’t commented on their agreement with these practices, but the new Dragonfly prototype does seem to be following Chinese government guidelines, which could put the search engine giant in some trouble on home soil. While there’s nothing illegal in what they’re doing, there’s a chance that North American users could see the newest prototype and wonder how similar American tracking is to the new Chinese tracking methods.
Google holds several secondary entities beneath its parent name of Alphabet Inc., and now it appears they may be gaining some new digital partners in China. This new agreement will allow Google to host some data on the servers overseas, which poses additional concerns for global users. If the data stored in China isn’t just pertaining to Chinese users, it could potentially be ground for international identity theft, data leakage, and of course, the government there will have the right to access the information.
Working with China has aroused some controversy, even among U.S. Google employees who worry that this deal will compromise the company’s integrity. Hiding information and censoring sites from Chinese citizens is one thing employees have had a difficult time coming to terms with, and now Google is discussing partnering up on their weather announcements as well.
China is notorious for poor air quality and high pollution levels, causing its citizens to use air purifiers in their homes, wear masks outside, and even stay indoors when conditions are too poor. The new weather and air pollution service that Google might partner with, could potentially give misinformation to citizens on air quality as a means of preventing government resentment or concerned citizens.
Concerns for Google Outside of China
This new China deal isn’t the only worry Americans are facing for search engine Google. The company recently changed settings on the phones of users through remote access. This has caused some concern about whether Google accesses mobile devices remotely at other times as well. The phones which were accessed were running the Android 9 Pie OS.
Users who experienced this alarming breach of privacy noticed that something was different when the Battery Saver switched on by itself. The Battery Saver turns off unnecessary notifications and stops running apps in the background of the phone to save data until the feature is turned off. Devices can be programmed to switch over by themselves when the battery gets low, usually between 20 and 10%. The strange thing in this recent occurrence, however, was that most users claimed their phones to be at a near full charge.
Google Came Clean
Phones affected included Pixel devices, the Essential Phone, Nokia phones and OnePlus 6, as well as some other Androids which had the Pie OS actively running. Google has always been a company who prides themselves on putting users and the user experience first, and the company was forthcoming about this intrusion. They acknowledged the battery saving change was a mistake, one which occurred during a test phase for a real update. While the company was apologetic and explained away the odd occurrence, it left many Android users feeling a little violated and a lot nervous about what else might be going on inside their phones that they aren’t privy to.
Google has been pretty open with users and site owners about the many changes they make to their products and why. All large companies are going to make mistakes and have learning opportunities along the path to success, but it has reportedly made the world of Android users a little more cautious and curious about their devices. Of course, we can’t expect Google to revoke the option for remote access as it can be helpful should a problem arise, or a security issue be detected. However, for the sake of user privacy and the moral high ground, it’s hoped that the company will try harder not to let errors of this magnitude happen without reason.