Much Ado About Google's Privacy Policy Changes

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2012-02-01 Print this article Print

Google is getting a lot of flak about its new privacy policies, some of it warranted and some of it not.

The fact is that Google has been heading along this path for years. One could argue the first indication was the Dashboard Google set up in 2009 to provide users more information about how they are creating data in Google's applications. More direct proof came in 2010 with a much more minor, subtle announcement that Google was streamlining its privacy policies.

Then came the big streamlining of 2012. Google decided to roll up 60 existing services under one broad banner policy.

While regulators are likely to rejoice over such simplicity--and Microsoft is leveraging the move to slam Google--much more controversial is that it would treat all of the Google accounts within those services as the same, and enable data-sharing between services.

This wasn't a choice, and many of the media, including myself, noted that users could not opt out. This is true, but opting out isn't an issue or the issue. If you don't want to fall under the new privacy policy, log out of Google. You can still use Search, Maps and YouTube.

You have to sign into Gmail because, well, your email address is your Web identity as far as Google accounts are concerned. But no one is stopping you from creating anonymous Google accounts, or even multiple user accounts.

Publicly, Google argues these changes promote simplicity and improve the Web services themselves. Privately, Google is aghast. Why? Because Microsoft, Yahoo and other Internet giants also have streamlined policies, yet no one freaked out over those. People also have full-blown freak-outs about Facebook's privacy and Timeline changes. It's natural paranoia.

Why is this a big deal now? Google couldn't have announced this sweeping change at a worse time. Google has only just recovered from two major privacy scandals--the Google Buzz Gaffe of 2010 and the Google WiSpy Washout of 2011.

Congress was quite annoyed about both incidents, and the FTC actually put Google on audit watch for two decades.

Google is also being savaged by smaller rivals in the press, who have bent the ears of antitrust regulators in Europe and the United States with their collective tales of woe.

Congressmen in September vilified Google for "cooking" its search algorithms, only to watch Google leverage Google+ to prop up its own search results with its Search, plus your world service several months later.

Thanks to the latter initiative, which flies in the face of claims by the Yelps and Expedias of this world that Google seems bent on propping up its own Web services, I can only guess the FTC will surely open a major investigation and call Google to the carpet.

There will be blood, green blood made of cash, and Google will expel a lot of it. But, like Microsoft before it, Google will not expire. It will pay to play, and hopefully, unlike Microsoft before it, won't fail to innovate online and struggle to restore its relevancy on the Web.

Google is evolving, partly to make its loosely amalgamated Web services more cohesive, partly to compete with Facebook, and mostly to improve its advertising-targeting capabilities, which will lead to great revenue growth.

I'm enjoying the evolution, and would love to see if Google can pull it off, and make sense of some super-connected Internet where we can control TV with our phones and have our Web services update based on our location, all communicating in harmony.

I'd like to believe Google will be as good as it claims it will. I don't need it to be "beautiful" as top Googlers like to preach, but I do need it to work well.

I'm OK with this. Google hasn't flouted my data to date (insofar as I know). I'm not saying you should be, too. I'm just saying that the company would be stupid to sacrifice my good will for money.

Because I have the ultimate Bully Pulpit--this blog--and I believe there is a mutual respect. If not, hell hath no fury like a journalist scorn.

I choose not to live in fear or walk on eggshells where my data is concerned. If I don't like it, I can leave Google and export it.

In the meantime, the blogosphere needs to take a chill pill grande. |

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