tech news and opinions

Google has always said you’re data

In the comments section on Ars Technica today for the article about the Google user agreement alterations, the #1 comment was something along the lines of “I’m confused.” No one seems to have noticed any negative changes in the policy. KT421 (whoever that is…) provided a summary of his findings:

I don’t get it either. I actually read through their new privacy policy, which I found rather straightforward and easy to understand.

The things I took away from the reading were:

-Google will not sell your info to advertisers, but they will sell ad space to advertisers, and use your info to match ads to users.

-Google will use data across multiple google products to choose which ads to serve to you. (I was honestly surprised that this wasn’t the case already.)

-Google will share your info with third party contractors they hire to process that data, with your google apps admin, and with law enforcement when legally compelled.

-Data that you share publically is public.

Even outside of the frantic media coverage, there have been little popups all over Gmail and YouTube imploring me to read the new policy, so this is not exactly blindsiding anyone.

So yeah, I’m not seeing the evil here. What am I missing?

I thought John Malloy’s commentary on the situation was ideal. By ideal I mean, this is the way that we should be able to look at it, though that might not necessarily be the case. I don’t want to join the naysayers here, so let me just say that from a business standpoint, Google could simply be doing what Malloy and KT421 are suggesting. It makes sense. After all, Google isn’t really trying to bring the world to an apocalyptic end. Why would they want your data beyond giving you advertisements? Thus, on the one hand, internet privacy is overrated. You’re living in a world where you’ve already given away tons of data about yourself ON and OFF the internet without realizing it. The difference is that computers have a better memory than the concrete sidewalks you trod upon this afternoon.

On the other hand, Google may be taking too much information. Plus, do we really want it easy for someone to have all this data about us centralized? The problem isn’t so much Google as it is the people who may use Google for their own malevolent purposes. Thus, if Google wants to centralize their data, for everyone’s sake, I hope they hold onto it very very very…. (did I say very?) very tightly. (One of these days, I’ll have to come up with a scary list of all the things people can do with your data. That’ll be fun, but for now, it’s a distraction from the story). Privacy Intenational released a study about 5 years ago comparing several major internet service companies. Naturally, they blacklisted almost (yes, only almost) everything Google offered on the following grounds (under the heading “Why Google”):

We are aware that the decision to place Google at the bottom of the ranking is likely to be controversial, but throughout our research we have found numerous deficiencies and hostilities in Google’s approach to privacy that go well beyond those of other organizations. While a number of companies share some of these negative elements, none comes close to achieving status as an endemic threat to privacy. This is in part due to the diversity and specificity of Google’s product range and the ability of the company to share extracted data between these tools, and in part it is due to Google’s market dominance and the sheer size of its user base.

Let me remind you, that was five years ago. Today, I imagine things are more centralized. No doubt, centralizing things on a bajillion servers is a tough job, but it’s nothing servers and some software can’t handle. Eventually, everything about on Google will be centralized… assuming that you use Google services and stop using the internet for a few years. In the mean time, you can explore the internet like you would a walk in the park. I don’t hear anyone complaining about security cameras in Walmart “invading” your public privacy (what’s that?). And who knows – Walmart may use their security cameras to find out what you buy. But wouldn’t you like them to have those things always in stock?

In conclusion, I think it’s pretty obvious that I am not opposed to mass data collection for benign purposes. Yet I’ll make it clear, no one likes to be watched, not even me, so I’ll keep using DuckDuckGo and ixquick. Furthermore, if anyone engages in data centralization, be sure to hold onto it very very very tightly.


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