Deep in the bowels of a climate-controlled, neon-lit server farm inside a nondescript Google data center in a nameless Arkansas industrial park lie gigabytes of information. This information paints a shockingly accurate picture of who you are, where you live and what you like to watch on YouTube. Sounds ominous, doesn't it?
It's all true: Google saves search queries associated with your Internet Protocol (IP) address for nine months [source: Privacy Rights Clearinghouse]. It uses software to scan Web e-mails for keywords. With a new cell phone service called Latitude, your friends (and Google) always know where you are. Even YouTube always seems to suggest videos that you actually want to watch. Creepy, huh?
Obviously, if Google has access to all of this information, it's using it in sinister ways. Not so fast: According to Google representatives, there's nothing personally identifiable about any of the data that Google saves and analyzes. Your search queries, for example, aren't your actual search queries, but searches done from your computer's IP address. An IP address only gives Google a vague geographic location, not a name.
No Google employee is allowed to make connections between IP addresses and individuals. In fact, Google has a history of denying requests from the U.S. government to hand over search histories for investigations [source: Boggan].
The most diabolical thing that Google does with its vast stores of information is using your search history and e-mail keywords to effectively cater online advertisements to your interests. However, privacy advocates argue that no single entity should be allowed to collect this much information. They're concerned that hackers could get their hands on it or Google might finally fold to a government subpoena. What if Google suddenly needs to turn a quick buck -- what's stopping the company from selling our info to the highest bidder?
The answer, according to Google, is corporate philosophy number six: "You can make money without doing evil" [source: Google].