Greetings on the occasion of India’s 63rd Republic Day!
The bottomline of the new policy is that Google will now replace all its privacy policies across almost all its (more than 70) products and services with one single policy that will treat the user as one entity on all its services. This policy comes without an opt-out, and is going to be in force from March 1, 2012. What this means for the user is that Google will now be able to integrate all the information (which, incidentally, you have already given them permission to acquire in the individual terms of agreements whenever you registered for a Google service) and use it to offer a better and more intuitive experience as well as use it to generate more targeted advertising on its sites. For more details about the new policy, head over to the policy page on Google, or take a look at Alma Whitten’s (Director, Privacy for Product and Engineering, Google) official blog post on this subject. In this post, we take a look at exit options, the impact of this policy, and the story behind how Google got to this point.
Is there a way out?
How did Google get this powerful?
Google has become what it is today riding on the back of users who saw it as the champion of the open web. It made all its basic services free, set up huge databases of every sort, provided web development tools and support, and launched initiatives to decommercialize and free content up in many areas such as education, software programming, music, streaming video, and books. Yet, the last few years have seen it at the center of anti-trust inquiries both in the EU and in the US not very different from those faced by its alleged arch enemy - the evil corporation. The question being asked by objective commentators is whether this apparently monopolistic trend is possibly a step towards the open web realizing true openness.
The restrictive practises story goes back to when Microsoft got into trouble over features in the Windows operating system that put others at a disadvantage. The hero of that particular battle, Netscape, has however long been buried and forgotten. Microsoft on the other hand has remained the industry leader in spite of many aspects of computing evolving faster than it could strategize.
How did Google come into the picture?
So is Google good or evil?
Cloud computing is another example of how Google has actually played both sides of the game equally well. Google launched it’s cloud based document storage and processing services as a way to counter Microsoft’s Office suite, the longstanding staple of business computing, and one of Microsoft’s main bread earners. Then came the launch of the Chrome browser, the Chrome OS for netbooks, and then Chromebooks. With most new features in their services being released as Chrome-only, this can be seen as an anti-competitive stance. The reason that many observers will not agree that Google is being restrictive is that in the field of web services, the competition is merely a click away, you are free to take your information and go there.
Should I be worried about this policy?
Privacy activists may rave and rant about how they don’t want their erudite Google account to be invaded by ads based on their middle-aged YouTube searches for “preteen boys,” or to find search suggestions based on their email, but my personal opinion is that as long as you are not doing anything that you will not be embarrassed about or ashamed of, and this cauldron of data actually intuits what you wish to do and wish to see, it is a good thing. Google already had all of this data with it all this time, and has, in some way or the other, been using it to provide better targeted services. This policy just makes it official and makes you a party to the arrangement. If you are ashamed of your internet behavior, then you either need to get help, or pay the price for it, or just grow up and accept things about yourself. I know that not too many people will agree with me on that, especially given the fact that the contemporary user of the web has his adolescence, youth and adulthood all up there in the cloud. This can be embarrassing to those who would not like anyone to know that they were silly goats before they became dead serious mathematics professors - or whatever - known for their “grave”ness - or is the word “gravity?
Who is the champion of a free internet now?
I have put my views across on this, and I accept that my understanding of this subject is limited and perhaps biased. I like Google products, but not to the point that I am blind to unfair practices. I look forward to a stimulating discussion on this matter in the comments section. Do join in with your views.