Tuesday, March 6, 2012
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Speaking In Private
Did you read it? Do you know how it differs from their previous policy? Do you understand the full implications of this policy change?
When Sergey Brin was assigned to show graduate school candidate Larry Page around the Stanford campus in 1995, neither had an inkling they would go on to transform society.
The duo began collaborating on a search engine the following year. Dubbed BackRub, it lived on Stanford servers for more than a year, but got axed when it was deemed as taking up too much bandwidth.
The two were undeterred. They tweaked the program and decided on a new name. They called it Google - a twist on the mathematical term "Googol" that represents the numeral one followed by 100 zeros. It reflected their mission to organize a seemingly infinite amount of information.
By August of 1998, they had caught the attention of Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim. Bechtolsheim was so impressed he wrote a check for $100,000 to a company that did not yet exist. Google filed for incorporation shortly thereafter, opened a bank account and deposited the check.
Later that same year, PC Magazine named Google one of the Top 100 Web Sites for 1998.
Internet usage was still in its infancy back then. The web was merely a compilation of information, not yet transactional. There was no online shopping or banking as of yet, no need to protect personal information as none was shared.
Existing search engines were clunky, bloated with images and ancillary information that were irrelevant to the results you were seeking. And made page load times exasperatingly long.
Google was an exciting change for the tech community who first embraced it. This no-frills engine loaded only the basics and returned only the information you were seeking. Sleek, swift and simple.
Over time, new components and features were offered without affecting performance. Today, Google claims over 60 different product lines.
Now that they've done just that, they're feeling the heat from those who feel their privacy is at risk. The reality is that it's up to each and every person accessing a website to know how that site will use their information and decide for themselves if the terms are acceptable.
Gmail users are accustomed to tailored ads appearing in your inbox. For example, if you get frequent notices about motorcycle events, you might see ads from companies selling hard to find parts for your particular model. You'll get ads for restaurants or store coupons from places in your area.
Now Google can share that information to personalize your experience across all of their products. I visit YouTube and immediately presented with video options featuring my favorite musicians and NASCAR drivers.
Items you've searched for on Google will be presented for view. For example, if I were searching for a new lobster recipe, I could find a how-to-cook lobster video suggested the next time I visit YouTube.
Your Google search results will be more relevant, too, based on your prior searches and interests. You won't be presented with how to choose the perfect engagement ring when you're looking for dimensions of a baseball diamond. Or tips from heavyweight fighters when you want to train your boxer.
Advertisements will be tailored to your interests and location. No more anti-wrinkle cream or other personal hygiene product unless it's something you already use. At least, I'm hoping this holds true. There are certain things I really don't need to know about.
You can minimize some of the web tracking that takes place, but you won't eliminate it completely. Clear your web browsing history. Enable "In-Private Browsing." Logout from all Google products before conducting a search.
But you can't stop it completely. Google isn't the only company that tracks your online patterns. Merely the only one to do it openly and make sure you know how it affects you.
Take the time to understand privacy policies on every site and product you use. They can be difficult to follow, but worth the effort. There is no such thing as the "usual yadda-yadda..." What you don't know CAN come back to haunt you.
Financial Protection For The Elderly
These days you can't be too careful. There are unscrupulous individuals out there just waiting to help separate you from your money, especially if you are elderly. There seem to be more and more scams cropping up everyday that target senior citizens. Everything from crooked financial advisors to fraudulent "prize" checks to false claims for needing assistance, it can be hard to discern what is real and what is not. Ruthless tricksters dupe millions of senior citizens each year. Don't let yourself or a loved one become a victim.
Be careful whom you trust with your money. If you are hiring a financial planner, attorney, or other advisor, be sure to investigate the person thoroughly. Check to make sure that they are properly licensed or registered. If you are unsure how to obtain this information, consult your state's Attorney General's office for assistance.
Being wary of trusting someone with your life's savings includes not only financial advisors and attorneys but also friends and relatives. Although we would like to believe that our loved ones would not take advantage of us, unfortunately it happens all too frequently. These days, it is not unusual for a senior citizen to execute a Power of Attorney that turns his or her financial business over to someone else. Depending on the situation, it can be quite a relief to the senior or necessary due to health issues. You should always have an attorney draw up or review the document. Be sure that you completely understand exactly what "powers" you are relinquishing. Giving someone full financial Power of Attorney means that the person you designate can do everything from closing bank accounts to selling your home to paying bills. While some of these actions may be necessary, just be sure that the person you place your trust in is worthy of the honor.
Protecting yourself from financial abuse includes being careful with things you are discarding, making sure your financial information kept at home is secure, and being careful of information you divulge. There has been a lot of press about scammers obtaining personal information via the phone, Internet, and even your trash can. But, unfortunately, there are many other ways. The person that comes in to clean your house may be going through your desk looking for bank statements. The friendly plumber may be ransacking your jewelry drawer while you get that glass of water he requested. The home health aide may be going through your mail looking for credit card bills. Lock up important financial information, including account numbers and social security numbers, in a safe place. Never give financial information over the phone or Internet, and remember to shred, shred, shred when you discard financial data.
Protecting relatives in assisted living facilities or nursing homes can be especially challenging. I recently heard of a case where an elderly man with dementia was checked out of his nursing home by a complete stranger. Although the man was returned safely to the home without incident, who knows where he went or what he did while he was with the stranger. The stranger could have taken him to the bank and cleaned out all his accounts or taken him to his home and stolen his belongings. If you have a family member in similar circumstances, it is a good idea to make a list of people that are allowed to check him or her out of the facility. You do this to protect your kids at school, do it to protect your loved ones later in life.
If you are a victim of fraud or theft, do not be afraid or embarrassed to report it. You are not alone. It happens every day. By not reporting it, you are giving the crook a chance to victimize someone else.
This is just some basic information regarding protecting the elderly. For more information, check out the FBI website. The USA.gov website offers more information on rights for the elderly and preventing fraud. The FDIC also recently ran an article in their Winter Consumer Newsletter on how to prevent financial abuse of the elderly. You can access it here.
The Nanny State
Let's take a break today from discussing the strong institutions necessary for prosperity to take a look at what is going on in the financial world. After poking through the 13K mark for the first time since George W. Bush was President, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) experienced a major sell off today - the steepest drop of 2012.
Once again, Europe was the cause as there has been some pushback by private investors in the Greek debt deal. It looks like the absolutely necessary deal is coming down to the wire. Failure to close the deal will open up a whole new round of worldwide financial uncertainty.
And it isn't just the Greek debt deal. European economic data released showed the EU economy actually contracted in the 4th quarter, after an almost imperceptible gain in the third quarter. If the EU economy contracts yet again in the first quarter of 2012, as many expect, the European continent will officially be in a recession - yet again. The "R" word in Europe will almost certainly drag on the U.S. and other economies that have finally, albeit anemically, begun to grow.
Even China, one of the remaining resilient engines of growth, has revised their growth estimates downward. China's impressive economic growth has been directly correlated with the country's conversion to a market economy. It is, therefore, ironic that the Chinese are now being negatively impacted by Europe as the continent moves further and further away from the free enterprise system.
Can the European problem be solved? Maybe, however Europe has very hard-to-correct structural deficits, built up over many years in order to support a burgeoning "Nanny State." The level of government debt is staggering, and the corresponding interest payments devour much of the productivity of the private sector.
Any solution will require EXTREME austerity measures in Europe, along the same lines as the Greeks are grappling with at the current time. It is hard to imagine the European welfare state accepting such a change that can only be described as fiscal sanity. Expect rioting in the streets.
Perhaps even more alarming, it is difficult to consider a scenario whereby the U.S. is not very far behind...
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