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You are the product for The Google

Google's new privacy policy isn't really about privacy

Backspin By , Network World
March 02, 2012 09:34 AM ET
Gibbs

Network World - "If you're not paying for something, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold." -- a user named "blue_beetle" on MetaFilter

As of March 1, if you hadn't erased your Google Web History and switched the feature off, you will have made a big mistake because Google has set itself on a course that will allow the company to find out way too much about you ... at least, way too much about you if you have any interest in maintaining your privacy.

What happened on March 1 was that Google, in its all-encompassing Borg-ness (I feel that the company should be really be referred to as "The Google" from now on), decided it would implement a new privacy policy which, the company asserts, is designed to streamline more than 70 separate privacy policies covering the company's various services.

BREAKING IT DOWN: How to protect your online privacy | 6 things you need to know about Google's new privacy policy

Here's how The Google framed the change in its original January blog posting on the topic:

"... there's so much more that Google can do to help you by sharing more of your information with ... well, you. We can make search better -- figuring out what you really mean when you type in Apple, Jaguar or Pink. We can provide more relevant ads too. For example, it's January, but maybe you're not a gym person, so fitness ads aren't that useful to you. We can provide reminders that you're going to be late for a meeting based on your location, your calendar and an understanding of what the traffic is like that day. Or ensure that our spelling suggestions, even for your friends' names, are accurate because you've typed them before. People still have to do way too much heavy lifting, and we want to do a better job of helping them out."

The post makes it sound like The Google is just trying to simplify things and make your life easier and better ... but wait! This is, in reality, much like calling a root canal procedure a "simple, fun, and hygiene-supporting oral cavity health enhancement process." The nice, comfy, weaselly words hide the fact that something much more complex and uncomfortable is involved.

What The Google's new policy allows for is the integration of your Web history, which includes searches and sites visited, with all of your activities on other services provided by The Google, such as YouTube, Google Docs, Gmail and so on.

What The Google wants to do is slice and dice where you go, what you look for, what you look at, and what you consume so it can make your life better ... just kidding ... so it can make loads of money by helping other people sell to you more efficiently and more effectively.

If you doubt the power of the insights that can be gained by mining data, just consider what can be determined by looking at what users collectively search for. Quite some time ago The Google released a service called "Flu Trends." By simply looking for anonymous searches that are related to influenza, The Google was able to predict flu outbreaks considerably earlier than health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control have been able to.

I think you'll agree that's pretty impressive, but now think of the insights into your life and behavior that could be garnered by compiling all of your individual data then slicing and dicing it and comparing that to that of all of the other users of The Google's services. The Google's predictive ability would become positively god-like!

Again, should you doubt the power of what are called "predictive analytics," just consider the recent tale of data mining at Target as reported in an excellent article in The New York Times: Target's marketing department apparently wanted to determine if a customer was pregnant even if she didn't want Target to know. They asked this creepy question because, according to the article, "new parents are a retailer's holy grail."

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