What are Google REALLY up to?

By | March 15, 2012
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In the Computers newsletter this time:
  • What are Google REALLY up to?
  • Read Newton’s personal notebooks
  • Why I must finish the digital photography videos this month
  • A playmate for Alastair

A real mixture this time – kefuffle about Google’s antics, read books by a real genius online (not me, I’ve not gone all big-headed!) and the reason I really must finish the new digital photography videos this month…

What are Google really up to?
You might have heard the fuss about Google changing their privacy policy – and as a result, changing the way they way they use information about what you search for to decide what adverts to show you.

When you search for something using Google, you get “normal” search results – but you also get a list of adverts down the right hand side and sometimes 3 at the top. That’s been the case for ages.

And not everyone realises it, but Google also own and run several other websites. Google maps is obviously them, for example, but so is YouTube, the video website.

Until now, those different websites have worked in a pretty separate way. They all showed adverts but they chose what adverts to show depending on what you did on that website only. For example I might use Google to search for info about computers, so it would show me adverts for computers. But I use YouTube to play cartoons for Alastair, so it might show me adverts for cartoon DVDs or other toddler related things.

With their new policy, it’s changed, though.

Now, they’ll combine information across all of their websites. So now, when I go to YouTube, they might show me adverts for computers – even if I’ve never watched videos about computers on YouTube. They’re basing what adverts they show on what I’ve done on other Google owned websites.

As another example, now if I search on Google Maps for directions from Cumbria to Plymouth, when I go to YouTube, they might show me adverts for a hotel in Plymouth (bit pointless, since I stay with Mum and Dad when I’m there, but they don’t know that).

  • It’s set off all sorts of fuss about privacy issues and whether it’s even legal for Google to do this. As usual with this sort of thing, some of the newspapers have misunderstood a lot of the issues. Here are some of the facts you should know:
  • The main advantage is that now Google are also using the information in the normal search results. For example, if I search for cartoon DVDs on Google, it knows that we watch “Roary the Racing Car” lots on YouTube, so it could show those results higher up than “In the Night Garden”, which Alastair’s not so keen on.
  • Google aren’t selling the information to third parties or passing it on to their advertisers, despite what some papers have said. They’re using it themselves to decide what adverts and search results to show you. But it doesn’t go to any other company.
  • They only track all this if you have a Google account of some kind (could be from the search website, YouTube, Gmail or any of their other sites) and are signed in at the time you do the search, watch the video or whatever.
  • So you can just log out and it’ll work in the old way – if you go to www.google.co.uk it’ll tell you in the top right whether you’re signed in or not and let you sign out if you like.
  • Of course, you can also just decide to use a different search engine – www.bing.com is the next most popular (owned by Microsoft).
  • You can also tell Google not to use information from their other sites in Google search results. Go to www.google.co.uk, click at the top right on your log in (or log in if you aren’t) and click on privacy, then tools, then ads preferences manager, then opt out. It’s trickier to stop them using your search results on YouTube (for example) but there’s also a link to do that by clicking on ads on other sites.

There’s a lot of fuss going on – and I can see both sides of this one. On the one hand, most of the time this means Google can give a better service. Usually you’d prefer both the normal search results and the adverts to be, well, better. More targeted to what you’re after. On the other hand people get edgy about any information being stored about them, even if it’s just which videos you’ve wasted a bit of time watching on YouTube.

But at least if you’re not happy with it, you now know how you can stop them recording the info.

Read Newton’s notebooks
It’s not often I recommend something that’s partly in Latin (not least because I can’t read it!) but I found this fascinating to have a browse through. Sir Isaac Newton’s notebooks and papers have been scanned in and put on the web, free for all to read through. Some of it is in Latin but some is in English, so you can see the very bits of paper where he scribbled down his thoughts on Gravity, Optics and Mechanics. You can see them here: http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/collections/newton

I did look through for a bit saying “Ouch, really must cut down that apple tree” but didn’t spot it…

Why I have to get the digital photography videos finished by the end of the month
I mentioned last time that the new videos showing you everything you need to know about digital photography will be available by the end of the month – and there’s a very good reason why…

There are two sets of videos – one all about using the camera itself, what the different settings are for, how they work and when to use them and tricks and tips to get better results even without actually being a better photographer.

The other set is all about the things you can do with your photos on the computer – how to get the photos on the PC, how to edit them (and a free program to do it in – red-eye removal, correcting photos that came out a funny colour or wonky), how to print them (either on your home printer or through a company like Jessops or Boots), emailing them or sharing them with friends on the internet and one or two other fancy bits like having cakes made with your photos on (or just the icing so you can put it on your own cake)!

A playmate for Alastair
Anyway, I need to get them finished this month because I won’t be around in April to finish them as I’m taking a few weeks off. Not just a holiday – we’re expecting a baby then. A little playmate for Alastair. The due date is April 7th but I want to have everything sorted out by the end of March in case it all happens early (though Alastair kept us waiting 8 days after due date – fingers crossed this one isn’t that late!).

Laura, Louize, Georgia and Claire will keep everything ticking along while I’m not about but I want the videos finished beforehand. Otherwise you’d be able to compare the “before” and “after” , with the extra bags under my eyes from lack of sleep and so on…

So in the next week or so, I’ll be announcing the exact date when the videos will be available to order. Watch out for an email!

That’s all for now.
Tim Wakeling
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