Meet my new personal assistant

It's Google.  

Yep. The Internet behemoth is keeping track of little old me.  Not too shabby. You'd think I'd be happy to be chosen for such an honour.

But the thing is, I haven't been plucked from the crowd, it's more a case of not being able to opt out.

Like many of us, I'm a big Google user. I enjoy their products, how well they work and how integrated they are. Because of the company, I learned how to spell and almost understand algorithm. I'm also a fan of their minimalist design aesthetic.  

On the surface, it sounds as if they've applied this same notion of simplicity to the company's new privacy policy. They've expunged the legalese and pared it down to a single document that covers all their services.

I like that in theory.

What I'm not crazy about are the automatic linkages that happen when I'm signed in and all my accounts are effortlessly sharing data.

Say I'm going to be late for an appointment and Google knows because it's in my calendar and they're aware of the time, my location, the distance to my meeting and…well, my habits. I don't like the idea of a digital tap on the shoulder with the offer to write and send a note explaining my tardiness.

On the other hand, there will be cases when I want that – say I'm in a new place and not sure of how long it will take to reach my destination on time.  

The point is, I should have the option to turn parts of the service on or off depending on my needs (i.e. I'm the customer) without having to fully sign out. (I guess it's their idea of a binary solution.)

I choose to live a portion of my life in public by being active in social media. I understand the benefits and risks and make decisions based on what's important to me as an individual and as a member of my family.  Ultimately it should be up to me to draw the line. And that's something Google's taking away.  

Their intense-customization will also remove some of the Internet's quirky serendipity and I don't like that either, but that's a subject for another post.

I hope a public outcry will cause Google to modify its policy and give us back the freedom of choice, with the simple language intact, please.  If not, will I boycott the service? I don't think so. But I will use it less (Bing anyone?) and will be more mindful of which parts of my social graph I share with it.

Do you feel the changes are a breach of your privacy?  Will you do anything about it or just go with the flow? I'm very interested to hear your take on this. 

About Martin Waxman


Martin Waxman is a digital, social media and communications strategist, content marketer, social media trainer and instructor and co-founder of three PR agencies. He blogs at myPALETTE and hosts the Inside PR podcast.

14 comments

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gwynne
gwynne

One of the interesting things about all this has been the dramatic increase in the general public's understanding, and concern, for things #privacy related. The media still has a knee-jerk reaction, going for more sensationalism than actual reason, but the fact that they're reacting is a sign of progress on the privacy education front. Credit card companies have been collecting data on us for years, yet few think of about that. Credit card companies know what you buy, when you buy it, where and how often. It's just been locked away in non-public databases and you only think of it when you pay your bill, which many autopay now. I think these changes were a long time in coming. Google has moved out beyond its core of search, and I think the privacy policy consolidation is just one step as its moves to better leverage its other products and networks for its core capability: search. And, namely, its hungry one tricky pony cash cow, AdSense.

trisha7
trisha7

I find that Google is becoming too much of a mother hen in that, everyone has to listen and obey! I have cut back on my usage of Google and will continue to monitor their tactics at creating a bland one is the same as the other product.

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ginidietrich
ginidietrich like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Well, 1984 has come to life, has it not? We no longer are afraid of Big Brother. We're handing him everything he needs on a silver platter. This is the fifth blog post I've read today about leaving Google, in some capacity. I'm curious about all of this and it'll be interesting to watch and see what happens if a lot of us untangle our lives from the Google web.

StickyBranding
StickyBranding

@ginidietrich the big brother comment is interesting, because right now many are comfortable with Google and its ethics. We buy into their mantra, "You can make money without doing evil." The problem is companies change. Larry Page and Sergey Brin won't be leading the company forever, and we can't predict how future leaders may shift the culture and use and exploit the data they are capturing. It gets me thinking about how Steve Scully derailed Apple in the '80's. We may not be Google's customers, but we love their services and we love that they're free. I don't think I'll change my behaviours yet, but the comments did get me to pause and wonder

martinwaxman
martinwaxman moderator

Thanks @ginidietrich. Being the oldest, I always wanted a big brother - just not like this. It will be interesting to see what the upshot of this and if there's enough of an outcry to make Google listen. How can any of us leave Google when there's so much of value here? But we may have to put limits on when we're signed in. If that's the case, by not letting us customize what we want to share, Google may start losing out on some valuable data.

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gwynne
gwynne

@martinwaxman @EverettMartin There's a good argument to be made that, in this day and age, data is currency and by us using Google, and thus giving it data (paying), we're customers.

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EverettMartin
EverettMartin like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Martin. Good perspective overall, but I have to correct something you said:
"I should have the option to turn parts of the service on or off depending on my needs (i.e. I'm the customer) without having to fully sign out."

What you've forgotten (because I know you've heard it before):
"If You're Not Paying for It; You're not the Customer, You're the Product"

martinwaxman
martinwaxman moderator

Thanks @EverettMartin. Good point. I guess I feel it's more of a barter system - they give us services, we give them data...So I still feel like a partial customer.

Shonali
Shonali like.author.displayName 1 Like

I've seen some comments that support Google's decision to do this, since their logic is about a better user experience. To me, though, that doesn't mean we should lose the ability to opt out. Whatever happens, I don't know if I will stop using Google - I mean, it's so easy! and it would be hard for me to imagine working productively without the Google products I do use (and there are several I don't)... but it does have me thinking about whether I should check out Bing more. I'm not going to Yahoo, though. No way, no how.

Latest blog post: On Creativity and Content

martinwaxman
martinwaxman moderator

Thanks @Shonali! As I said, I'm going to continue using Google too - I've just got everything set up the way I like it - but I do hope they give us the freedom to opt in or out. Maybe if a lot of voices chime in.

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TorontoLouise
TorontoLouise like.author.displayName 1 Like

Very timely post Martin. It won't come as any surprise to you that I am very concerned about this and have spent the last few days researching (on Google ironically) the many ways I can protect myself and my data. We already live in a country where governments at all levels decide what's best for us. I don't want that to be compounded by digital spies following me around, assessing my purchases and preferences and offering up additional services based on their opinions of what I might be interested in. I try to protect myself in small ways - eschewing FourSquare and other applications that broadcast my location, not sharing personal details on Facebook - but I fear that, with every online interaction and transaction, I'm getting swept into the "vast machine" whether I like it or not. It's already happening. I buy a gardening guidebook on Amazon and for the next two years, I receive unsolicited information on every new gardening book that's published. I browse an online art site and the next day, while I'm reading an article in a UK newspaper, a piece of art floats across my screen begging me to come back and look again. While many people might be interested in the "benefits" of customization, I am not. Just because I make reservations at a certain restaurant does not mean I want an online suggestion of where I might go for dessert afterwards. Some people say if you don't like it, don't do anything online but it's too late for me to go back in time and choose a career that doesn't involve research. That shouldn't sentence me to a life of having my privacy violated.

martinwaxman
martinwaxman moderator

Great perspective @TorontoLouise. As someone who enjoys 'public life :)', I still want the option to be able to pick and choose what I want to share. For example, when my kids were young, I didn't feel comfortable posting photos or information on them. That was a personal decision, of course. And I believe it should stay that way. The Internet is amazing, but sometimes we forget our favourite places are run by private companies. Let's hope they continue to act in the public interest. Thanks!

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