Clearly biased by my love of Google

So, I received an e-mail today from Google that contained the same information they’ve posted on their websites/services about their new privacy policy. I thought it was pretty good of them to send me a direct e-mail, given that I’d been dodging the notice boxes in Gmail and Reader for a while. However, I already knew about the coming changes from having read a fairly sensationalist account of them on CBC. The main difference is described here:

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.

At the same time, Google’s new privacy policy clarifies that they’re not collecting more information, just consolidating information across services. They also state that they do not share or sell users’ personal information. That’s better than the deal I have with many loyalty points programs that I’ve willingly signed up for (Shoppers and Airmiles, I’m looking at you). I’m sure the fact that I buy cleaning solution for my glasses once a month gets sold to anyone who thinks it’s remotely valuable and I don’t get more than 30 points for it.

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:

What if I don’t want to use Google under the new Privacy Policy and Terms of Service?

If you continue to use Google services after March 1, you’ll be doing so under the new Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. If you’d prefer to close your Google Account, you can follow the instructions in our help center. We remain committed to data liberation, so if you want to take your information elsewhere you can.

(Image source here)


One thought on “Clearly biased by my love of Google

  1. Two comments:

    1. Yes, in addition to giving Google tons of information on ourselves, we give it to the government and banks and service companies like Rogers. However, those are different relationships. We purchase goods and/or services from Rogers whereas we give no money to Google. Older generations (and Malcolm Gladwell) are already skeptical about this “freeness” of the internet, so they are especially skeptical that something can cost us nothing. If we don’t pay money to Google, we must be giving it something else. Same goes for that evil Facebook.

    2. There once was a day when you could log into Gmail with one account, Youtube with another and Blogger with a third. I signed up for a Youtube account long before I had a Google or a Gmail account. I had a random, unique user name on Youtube that was tied to my main Hotmail address. Then I created my first Blogger account which was tied to an alternative hotmail address for alias purposes. Next, I created a Gmail account, which was unconnected to Youtube (having not yet been purchased) or Blogger. I amalgamated all my email into my Gmail. My old hotmail, my university account, and my blog hotmail all were sent to my gmail using that Pop3 stuff. Great, right?

    When I switched my Blogger domain from Sinner, Saint, Shiksa to Sundial’s Saga, I stopped using the Hotmail address associaetd with the first blog and created a new Hotmail address for my second blog. Instead of yet another Hotmail address, I was going to create a Gmail address for my blog. However, you cannot forward one Gmail account to another. Google just wouldn’t let me. So instead of having to check 2 inboxes, I created a hotmail for the blog.

    Then, Google did something that really bugged. They amalgamated their log ins. I used to be able to see my “normal” Gmail inbox and my “alias” Blogger dashboard at the same time. Now I have to choose between my “street identity” and my “blogger alias” for each online experience, which is really annoying. For example, if I’m in my email and I get an idea for a blog post, I need to sign out, go through like 3-4 Google account screens, and then sign into Blogger. It’s so annoying I have considered moving my Blog to WordPress, but I do love Blogger a lot.

    Then Youtube was purchased and holy crap. Well, I could add videos and follow people with my blogger alias which was neat. But since I only blog 4-8 times a month, I’m rarely signed into that alias and typically signed into my “main” account. So then I couldnt’ like or comment on videos unless I went through 3-4 google account screens to sign in, and then going back to check my inbox was another 3-4 google account screens away. So, I just stopped using Youtube. It was pissing me off that bad. And then, somehow, Google made the connection between my old-time Youtube login that was not associated with either my Gmail or my Blogger account. So now atleast my old Youtube is linked with my Gmail. But it’s all complicated because now I have two youtube accounts.

    If I blogged in my “street name” and never needed a Blogger alias, it would be a lot more straight forward. I understand that there are problems with internet anonymity. But given that I really would not want Google to consolidate the informatino from my Blogger account with information from my Gmail account, then I definitely will never tie the two together. Which means I’m stuck doing 3-4 logout/in screen each time I blog.


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