Print 29 comment(s) - last by shaidorsai.. on Mar 2 at 12:33 PM

  (Source: Ardash Vijay/Google+)
Nation's privacy regulators say they would like Google to better explain itself

For a while the online trend privacy-wise was towards greater anonymization, and shorter storage of data.  Today things seem to be going in the reverse direction, with companies like Google and Facebook actively working to reduce user privacy for profit.

Google Inc. (GOOG) the world's largest provider of internet search, web video (YouTube), and email (Gmail) is preparing to roll out a sweeping (and alarming) new cross-product privacy policy.  Under the new policy, Google will do away with separate privacy agreements and individual collection of data in its various products.  In its place will be a single mass monitoring/data mining apparatus, which will collect sensitive information including location, interests, age, sexual orientation, sexual habits, relationship status, religion, political views, health concerns, employment status, and more.

But the advent of "Googley the Privacy Slayer" has been potentially delayed by threats from French authorities.  The European Union nation's National Commission for Computing and Civil Liberties (CNIL) sent an open letter [PDF] to Google asking the company for more information about precise technical details of its plans.

The letter to new Google CEO Larry Page complains that the policy seemingly "does not meet the requirements of the European Directive on Data Protection, especially regarding the information provided to data subjects."

The European Union as a whole is very concerned about the new policy.  It has launched a probe into Google's actions.

Data Mining
Google is looking to mine your sensitive personal data to a greater extent
than has ever before been possible. [Image Source:]

French authorities -- and EU officials in general have a laundry list of concerns:
  1. The proposed changes lack transparency.
  2. Mass application of an ambiguous privacy policy covering dozens of the world's most used online services is troublesome.
  3. Government officials were not given clear warning about the changes.
  4. Users were not given clear warning about the changes.
In the U.S. Attorneys General for various states are expressing similar concerns and criticism [PDF].

Google, however, has insisted that no matter what the government or users say, it will implement the policy on March 1, which it insists is legal.  The policy has the potential to bring Google huge new profits via the sale of user data to "trusted" parties and via improving Google's in-house advertising.

For those wishing to opt out of the Orwellian new monitoring scheme, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a document detailing how to do so, in addition to explaining why the alarm at these changes is justified.

Sources: CNIL [complaint letter], EFF [how to opt out], The New York Times [more coverage], Rhode Island AG

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Not unforseeable
By Motoman on 2/29/2012 3:18:43 PM , Rating: 5
It's not like you couldn't see this coming...

Google, Facebook, et al provide services that are free to the end which are horribly expensive to provide.

They make money on advertisers. Advertisers pay them, ostensibly, for getting their users' attention and convincing them to buy their stuff.

The less effective an advertising campaign is (i.e. lower hit rate), the less valuable it is...and the less the advertiser is going to pay for it. If you can make the ads have higher hit rates, the value goes up...and the advertiser will pay you more.

Add in that public companies are always driven by their shareholders to grow...being flat, even if profitable, is not good enough for shareholders, and it's clear that such companies are perpetually going to be in a cycle of trying to find more ways to squeeze more money from their advertisers.

The only way you can get more money from an advertiser is to show them higher hit rates. The only way you can get higher hit rates is to better target the viewer of the ads. The only way you can better target your viewers is to use what you know about them to figure out what kinds of ads they're likely to respond to.

...and naturally, end users are generally (blithely, usually) just filling up FB, Google, et al with all kinds of information about themselves...either proactively based on what they post on their FB page, or inactively just simply by what kinds of things they search for on

The one and only resource these companies have is the information you give them - whether actively or inactively. It's the only value you, as a user, have to them. it kind of amazes me when people start whining about what these free-to-use services are doing with the information they gather. How do you think the free service is made available to you to use in the first place? And what did you think was going to happen, anyway?

Yes, we need to make it clear via regulations what can and can't legally be done with end user data, whether actively or inactively given...but we also need to not be idiots and just assume that FB et al are just going to give away free services like these at their own cost, out of the goodness of their hearts, and without an intention to make a profit.

RE: Not unforseeable
By FaceMaster on 2/29/2012 4:13:54 PM , Rating: 2
Meh, better than Yahoo taking over ;)

RE: Not unforseeable
By icrf on 2/29/2012 10:17:23 PM , Rating: 3
I've found it put most simply: "If you're not paying for it, you're not the customer. You're the product being sold." Wild expectations to the contrary are naive.

I don't care what Google does with my data internally if it helps me see fewer ads for wrinkle creams and tampons and more ads for knives and home theater equipment. I'd really rather them not make my information available to third parties, as I have less knowledge of who they are and their intentions and security practices.

Actually, what scares me most isn't that Google has it, it's that once they have it, the government can gain access to it. Despite being a law-abiding citizen planning nothing nefarious, my search history looks like I'm into all sorts of questionable things. I keep seeing court cases where prosecutors use search history to show that someone was researching chloroform used to kill their kids or something. I've googled much worse out of random curiosity.

RE: Not unforseeable
By Motoman on 2/29/2012 10:36:26 PM , Rating: 2
"If you're not paying for it, you're not the customer. You're the product being sold."

A close cousin to the poker player's saying "If you sit down at a table and can't tell who the sucker is, get up. It's you."

RE: Not unforseeable
By Natch on 3/1/2012 7:36:29 AM , Rating: 2
Of course, this is still only effective IF the person in question is willing to click on the ads (no matter if they picque the interest or not).

The simplest solution I've heard, concerning whether you want Google to have a personal history on you or not is to simply LOG OFF your account. Go, check e-mail (Google plus, etc), then log off, and continue your browsing. They will still likely collect information, if you do a Google search at that point......but it will be ANONYMOUS information, NOT tracked back to you.

"This is from the It's a science website." -- Rush Limbaugh

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