Jan 25, 2012

[Google] The 2012 Privacy Policy Clean-Up

Google 的貼牌冰箱(Google refrigerator)
Image by Aray Chen via Flickr
This may be a case of "Be Careful What You Wish For" in terms of Google's recently announced changes to their privacy policies and their terms of service. It all depends on where you stand, I suppose.

On the one hand, a lot of folks have written about how complicated a lot of the various privacy policies are, especially for companies with multiple products like Google. In the previously linked blog post, they detail having over 70 different privacy documents and interrelated terms of service policies in place to manage their different products and services. Thus the natural thrust for many privacy advocates has been to push for simplifying such policies documents and making it easier for users to understand how their personal information is used and for what purposes.

Also, a lot of folks expect the different Google products to play nice with one another. It's not unreasonable to expect that using Gmail should have natural synergies with other Google Apps like Google Calendar and so on and so forth. Until the advent of Google+, the Google ecosystem felt largely scattered with each product sort of living on its own with very limited integration.

The new Google privacy policy attempts to address these concerns by creating one larger policy document that covers most of their products except for a few special cases like Google Chrome and Google Wallet. For the most part this seems like a tremendous step in the right direction since it means only needing to read and study one larger policy document.

The flip side, as other bloggers and journalists are already pointing out, is the fact that part of the changes includes language indicating that Google will now freely use data gathered from all covered products to aid with their efforts to personalize its services based on your user habits and such. It makes sense given greater integration between Google products can't happen unless data sharing happens as well, but naturally this has some people uncomfortable

The real question here is this - How much do you trust Google as a company?

If you trust Google, believe that they really are living up to their motto of "Don't be evil", then you have nothing to fear. This means that your Google experience will become tighter, more effective at predicting what you want and what information is best for you. It also means that Google's ad targeting will get more effective, which means that you'll see more and more relevant ads that you are more likely to click on. But is that really better or worse than seeing ads that have almost nothing to do with your interests?

I've made it pretty clear long ago that I'm a firm believer in Google and I've already thrown in my chips with them for most things. The fact that this remains to be a Blogger-hosted blog instead of more popular platforms like WordPress just speaks of my loyalty to the company and the concept behind the brand. I'm guess I'm part of the group of geeks who are the Google equivalent of Apple fanboys or something.

So think about it. If you enjoy Google's products and want them to work better, then this privacy policy change is a good thing. If you don't agree, then unfortunately the lack of an opt-out channel for you means considering abandoning all Google products and moving your online business elsewhere, which admittedly isn't quite so easy to do anymore.

At the end of the day, most of the popular Google products are free ones that you get to use as you see fit. When you complain about something free, it does seem a little silly at times, but of course everyone is entitled to their opinion. It's like how users complain every time Facebook changes its user interface and yet we don't exactly see a horde of users quitting the platform since it remains amazingly useful for keeping in touch with friends.

As for me, I'm looking forward to what changes this will mean in my Google experience as a whole. I already love the company and I've seen how the incremental changes (including the recent Search Plus Your World change to the general search algorithm) have improved my user experience, but also because I'm so heavily invested in different Google products.

That's the deal that Google is offering all of its users. Trust the company with more of your customer data and in return you'll get a generally enhanced and improved Google experience across its host of free products and web services. Don't agree, and you're free to take your data with you (go Data Liberation!) and move on to another provider who may do things decently but probably not as well as Google does. The choice remains in your hands.
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