In a company blog post, Google privacy director Alma Whitten says that “if you’re signed in, we may combine information you’ve provided from one service with information from other services. In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.”
This makes sense to me. It’s an enhanced way of ‘bundling’ goods and services for customers who can obtain them in a more streamlined, effective manner because they’re all coming from the same provider. I mean, how many of us actually bother to get our cell phones and internet from other providers if we’re with Rogers for cable and they can give us all three with less hassle while being responsible for all of them working together? In fact, one might argue a company is going to lose out if it doesn’t do this for its customers.
Without acknowledging this, the CBC article then goes on to highlight two main concerns of Google users, which are taken to extremes in the panicked reader comments:
1. Google is collecting too much information.
Well, what did you expect? How much info do you think Rogers has on you? I will admit that if Google gets hacked in any sort of way, we will be in big trouble. But it’s the same kind of big trouble a person would be in if the government, the banks or any sort of entity that serves the public en masse lost control of our personal information. This is the risk we take when we give service-providers our information (for offline or online repositories). Google, at the forefront of providing these services and with the perk of consistency across services, provides benefits to the consumer that outweigh the risk. In turn, they also have such a large volume of consumers and so much at stake that any slip up (especially after Google Buzz) could result in huge losses.
So then, what does Google do with that information (other than help me not have to type out “Mayfair Theatre Ottawa” in full every time I want to check the movie schedule)? Well, that’s what people seem particularly ticked about, see this CBC headline:
2. “Helps advertisers find customers”
Gasp. I get it; none of us want to be ‘corporate tools’ just buying what we’re told. Without specific information, retailers have to work a little harder to try and target us: they can assume that because I’m watching the Young and the Restless I’m a 30+ woman who makes all the purchasing decisions when it comes to cleaning supplies and children’s products but really I could be a bored 20-something at home sick and too lazy to find the remote. So yes, I get the idea that there’s agency on the consumer’s part in circumventing direct advertising, as demonstrated by this comment on the article:
“Google really wants to know more about us, let them. We, on the other hand, can give them something to talk about. It won’t be too long before we have plug-ins that randomly searches and views stuff behind the scenes that will make your results meanless to Google. Success for me already is when I see ads for tampoons (sic).”
Well, I’ve never seen a tampoon ad but the reality of it is that, targeted or not, advertisements are going to show up no matter where you go. The internet is not an ad-free space (just like the rest of life) and what do you do when non-effective tampoon ads show up on the top of your Gmail? Well, you go out and use your consumer dollars on something else, something you really want, maybe even something underground and hipster since you’re so adamant about going against the mainstream. If that thing you’re going to buy anyways had popped up in your ad, it would have saved you some clicking to get to the online store selling it.
That’s my point: you’re going to purchase stuff anyways. I’m going to buy t-shirts from Threadless – it’s a fact, I own this one and many more. So why not have information about their sales pop up instead of “Study Medicine in Cyprus“. So really, if I’m going to waste milliseconds reflexively scanning the sidebar ads anyways, they might as well be something I’ll click on for once.
The only real issue I can see here is that peoples’ information bubble could become so insulated that they may no longer discover new information and products on the web. For example, Google’s assumption that I’m a feminist might prevent me from getting any anti-feminist search results, which could lead to me not knowing the knowing the extent of the current backlash. However, this can happen to anyone who gathers all their information from one or a few main sources and there’s a simple fix when it comes to Google: LOG OUT.
Of course, the full extent of the risks involved with these changes will become apparent once they’ve actually been up and running for a while. In the meantime, if you severely disagree with me, I won’t be upset if you voice your opinion and Google won’t guilt trip you if you take action, just have a look at their FAQs:
(Image source here)