Google’s privacy policy changes are no big deal

The internets are in a tizzy – Google recently announced major changes to their privacy policy that allows for the sharing of data between Google owned services. People are claiming this paves the way for the privacy apocalypse. Pretty soon it will start raining targeted ads, as humanity drowns in a giant lake of fire…

Don’t believe me? Here’s some headlines:

Google announces privacy changes across products; users can’t opt out

Google Privacy Policy Update Challenged by Lawmakers

Google privacy policy unleashes criticism from regulators

How to close your Google Account

Not to mention the fear inducing coverage by major media outlets – Fox News and NPR alike.

 

There are a couple problems with this hype.

  1. Google has gone to great lengths to be sure people are aware of the changes, and to make them understandable.

    Every couple months, Apple surreptitiously updates their terms of service and privacy policies – requires you to agree to the changes, and expect you to sift through pages of legalese to see what changed . Quite often these changes are indeed far reaching, like banning access to competing technologies so Apple can take a totally unneeded 30% cut, or Apple essentially owning your iBooks content. But where is the outrage? It’s Apple. Evil is in their nature.

    Instead Google does it right – I personally read about the changes from Google before hearing about it on the news. They have a notice on the search page, a popup in Gmail, in Youtube…
    Some examples:
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    And the page itself is written for human consumption, not lawyers:
    image

  2. If Google wasn’t sharing your data between services, they were the only ones.

    The other day, I was searching for some IT Helpdesk software. One of the products I looked at was HEAT. Ever since then, I have been seeing ads for Heat HelpDesk almost everywhere I go on the web. The other day I was looking for deals at Disney World, and wouldn’t you know it, I start seeing ads to that effect… everywhere I go. Yeah it’s creepy. What’s even creepier is that I don’t know who has this information or where they got it, and I sure don’t know anything about their privacy policy. Which leads to 3
  3. Google Dashboard lets you take control of the data stored about you

    Google dashboard is a single destination to review your information from all Google services. The Web History is a big one – perhaps the biggest. Surprise surprise, Google keeps a record of everything you search for while logged in, and sometimes even site visits. If you searched for something you would rather there be no record of (that rash on your leg, for example), you can delete individual entries, or you can clean it out altogether. You can also turn it off.

  4. Integration requires data sharing

    In order for Google to improve the integration between services – such as enabling unified messaging between Google Voice and Gmail – they must freely share data between the two services. Obviously a major motivation for such sharing would be targeting advertisements, but as I mentioned in #2 that has become the standard everywhere else.

 

Google has been doing things lately that I would argue border on evil (contrary to the “Don’t be evil” motto) – closing services that aren’t a huge success but that people still rely on, not releasing Android source code as promised, muscling out competing social networks in search results…

This policy change is not evil, it nothing to be “outraged” about, and they are doing it right. The sky is not falling; the world is not coming to an end.

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