Google Wants to Get to Know You Better... Uh-Oh

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Kelly Colgan

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By Eduard Goodman

In case you haven’t heard, Google wants to make life simpler by moving to one companywide privacy policy.

Yes, that’s right. The company that started out as a little search engine has grown into a behemoth that dabbles in everything from social networking to picture sharing to 3D modeling. And it plans to integrate information pulled from all of those Google services you use to learn more about you.

Here are just a few items of what’s up for grabs: your search preferences, contacts, calendar appointments, and habits based on chats.

Google said its goal with the new policy, scheduled to go live March 1, is to “make those services even better — to show you more relevant search results and ads, to help you connect with people or to make sharing with others quicker and easier.”

Does Google have a choice? Google may be losing ground to Facebook, which poses a serious threat with its hypertargeted advertising.

Google gets fewer clicks for its online ads, according to its fourth quarter report. A new policy would allow it to better capitalize on all the information it has on you.

The bottom line: Google’s new policy should scare you. Really. Typically, consumers are concerned with one thing when it comes to dealing with the privacy practices of many business-to-consumer companies: Does the company share or sell their personal information to other third parties? (Namely marketing companies.)

The answer to that question usually helps consumers decide what, if anything, to share with that business. Whether the company shares that data internally typically isn’t an issue because the scope of the company’s products and services is limited.

That’s not the case when you’re dealing with Google. The fact that Google is only able to share the information it collects within Google gives me as much solace as being told when lost somewhere in the Sahara Desert: Don’t worry, you’re still on Earth, it’s not as if you’re lost somewhere in the Milky Way.

Think about it: Google’s search-engine market share in the U.S. alone is estimated to be roughly 65 percent. Google+ has more than 90 million users. By some estimates between 224 million and 253 million Android devices have been activated, with nearly 700,000 Android activations happening per day, giving Google almost a 50 percent global market share of the smartphone market.

Add to this 350 million Gmail users, and the answer as to why Google wants to cross-reference this data becomes clearer.

Consider it this way: Would you be concerned about your privacy if disparate companies suddenly wanted to share information with one another? Imagine if Facebook, Apple, Yahoo Search, Hotmail, Firefox browser, Microsoft Office and MapQuest began to share data they individually collect about you?

Oh, and by the way, how that information is being shared, what specifically is being shared, and how you effectively opt out of it is all a bit opaque. But don’t worry, it’s all being done in the name of a “better user experience.” That would be cause for concern or at least questions.

This isn’t the last we’ll hear of Google’s new privacy policy. The issue has garnered bipartisan attention on Capitol Hill and driven Google’s policy manager, Betsy Masiello, to respond in a blog. Wait until the European privacy authorities start looking at this.

You may want to set up a Google alert to keep track of the ongoing news — or, well, maybe not.

Eduard Goodman, Chief Privacy Officer, Identity Theft 911 An internationally trained attorney and privacy expert, Eduard has more than a decade of experience in privacy law, fraud and identity management. He is a member of the state bar of Arizona and served as the 2008-2009 section chair of the bar’s Internet, E-Commerce & Technology Law Practice Section.

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