Sunday, January 29, 2012

Google & its Discontents

Google has announced a new privacy policy. They are working hard to get you to read it. If you have not read it, you should. And you should think about what it means. If you have a gmail account, if you have an Android phone, or keep a Google calendar, if you have an account with any of the other Google services, it means that the information from one account will be available across ALL of the other accounts. This article from the British Daily Mail does an excellent job of giving examples that help the reader see just how chilling the possibilities are. Google users have long been used to seeing ads for hotels pop up if they have been searching for information about another city. We have stopped worrying about it (though perhaps we should not!). But with the integration of all our accounts' information, those ads could now access information from our meetings calendar, our phone list, our profile, our GooglePlus "circles" and the data attached to those people in our lives.

Gizmodo has no doubts at all about this. Their blog post is titled "Google's Broken Promise: the End of Don't be Evil." They do a very nice job of contrasting previous privacy policies with the new one, to help make the profound shift more obvious.

What this means for you is that data from the things you search for, the emails you send, the places you look up on Google Maps, the videos you watch in YouTube, the discussions you have on Google+ will all be collected in one place. It seems like it will particularly affect Android users, whose real-time location (if they are Latitude users), Google Wallet data and much more will be up for grabs. And if you have signed up for Google+, odds are the company even knows your real name, as it still places hurdles in front of using a pseudonym (although it no longer explicitly requires users to go by their real names).

All of that data history will now be explicitly cross-referenced. Although it refers to providing users a better experience (read: more highly tailored results), presumably it is so that Google can deliver more highly targeted ads. (There has, incidentally, never been a better time to familiarize yourself with Google's Ad Preferences.)
Gizmodo explains that they consider Google to be going back on its promise to users, on which it built its multi-million dollar business, that it would always place its users' first. The new privacy policy does away with users' fine-grained control of their personal information that previous policy iterations upheld. However, Google does give users time to opt out, so pay attention!

And Google keeps wondering why their social media efforts keep falling flat!

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