Monday tech roundupIt’s time to talk about privacy and this week both Google and Facebook have come under fire for their squandering of users’ privacy rights. But what if something worse is lurking around the corner courtesy of Google?

Giving Google the boot

Millions of people around the world love Google – their services are generally free; it allows users to find whatever they need, take advantage of the cloud for most of their storage needs and use the multitude of apps that makes browsing online that much easier.

A smaller percentage truly understand the privacy implications of living a life with Google, and an even smaller group have chosen to forgo Google tools altogether. The Irish Times looked at both sides of sides of the equation, arguing that privacy is largely forsaken when you use Google, and advised on how to de-Google your life. Indeed, as the Googles and the Facebooks dominate more of our computing time, they mine more and more of our information.

“Instead of cash, people pay Google in kind: with their identity, their behavior, their habits and their preferences. Google collates and analyses this user data on a global scale, sells it to advertisers and, according to Edward Snowden, more than occasionally gifts it to US and other intelligence services,” the Irish Times said.

So how exactly does one untangle themselves from Google? The Irish Times has six answers:

  1. First, think about where you place your data and don’t give it all to one provider. Think about using cloud storage based in Europe, which has good privacy protections. The US, on the other hand, has the National Security Agency (NSA) which regularly and systematically mines data.
  2. You can also change the way you search. Most search engines track you, but DuckDuckGo is one of the search engines that doesn’t and may be worth a try.
  3. Get rid of cookies in order to prevent a fair share of tracking. One way to turn off cookies that goes beyond browser controls is Ghostery, a cookie blocker.
  4. The Irish Times thinks giving up Gmail is one of the toughest moves, but really the only difficulty is getting people used to your new address. Also, if you need your old messages, forward those to your new account before yanking the plug.
  5. Cloud storage is another Google gotcha. Once your data is in the Google cloud, they tie it to more and more services – each of which gathers more and more of your data. Basically, if you care about privacy, eschew Google storage.
  6. Finally, be wary of what you do with your smartphone. If you are committed to a life sans Google, make is sans Android as well.

Belgium gives Facebook privacy slap down

Google isn’t the only one with privacy problems. Facebook has its share as well. A privacy organization and regulator in Belgium has set its sights on Facebook, claiming the near ubiquitous website gathers and tracks users in violation of European law. And it does so without consent.

The aptly named Privacy Protection Commission studied Facebook’s behavior, and besides lodging a complaint, it is now telling users to get software that can stop privacy incursions in their tracks.

The group claims that Facebook purposely ignores European authorities, claiming it only has to answer to Ireland where it placed its headquarters in Europe.

Google self-driving car accidents the fault of drivers?

Self-driving cars are all the rage right now, so much so that even Apple is getting into it. Google is one of their biggest proponents, and has been testing the cars in real driving situations for years.

Where there are cars, there are accidents and Google driverless cars have around a dozen. In no cases was the car itself at fault, but the human drivers of the other vehicle, Google claims. Let’s hope this is true! After all, safer roads are everyone’s dream.

Tesla guru Elon Musk worries Google robots will rule the world

Elon Musk is huge friends with Larry Page from Google, but Musk is far less fond of what Google may get up to in the future. It might sound far-fetched, but Musk thinks Google will eventually build highly intelligent robots which may ultimately destroy humankind. The impetus for such a thought? Google has been buying up robotics companies like Imelda Marcos bought shoes.

Sound crazy? Not when you know that even Stephen Hawking has been warning about the dangers of unfettered artificial intelligence (AI).  Musk, as quoted in a new biography, believes Page might unwittingly create something that threatens us all. “He could produce something evil by accident,” Musk was quoted as saying.

Epidermal computer can read your thoughts

We’ve all seen computers get smaller and take on new forms. They also take on new functions. Skin computing accomplishes both. This new approach, pioneered by college professor John Rogers, sounds straightforward. Using a skin filament, sensors read brain waves through the temple.

Those are then turned into messages, according to a CNN interview with Rogers. “Our prototypes can provide a variety of monitoring and stimulation functions. We can pick up coordinated firing of neurons, and run that activity through a computer spelling interface, so that brainwaves pick letters out of a virtual keyboard display and type messages,” Rogers told CNN.

The real magic stands in the translating of brain waves into written down thoughts. This is a problem scientists have been working on for decades. The other cool thing is this skin patch can be worn comfortably, for long periods of time, and are barely noticeable. However, it is far from translating dreams or deep thoughts into literary magic. Early applications are far simpler, such as reading brain waves to anticipate an epileptic seizure, but this is definitely a remarkable first step.