Back Off Google, Please! A Defense Of Privacy

Megan McArdle is a senior editor for The Atlantic. She published an article today titled “Take My Privacy, Please! A Defense of Google“. Needless to say, I disagree with her arguments and I have to respond by writing a point-by-point rebuttal against some of the things she wrote. To read her full article, please click here.

“People love to freak out about incursions on their privacy. And by ‘people’ I mean cable news shows”

  • Yes, people do love to protect their privacy. Those ‘freaked out’ include: several consumer advocacy groups, state attorneys general, members of the US Congress and Senate, the White House, the European Union, several Asian countries, privacy commissioners from around the world, bloggers, and the average person.

“A week ago, Google implemented a plan to aggregate (most of) the data they collect from the many, many products they offer. Not to collect new data. Not to publish or disseminate that data in a new way.”

  • Google’s new privacy policy allows it to collect more personal data by combining data. The consolidation of personal data to combat “the faceless web” (as Google put it) will allow Google to easily figure you out better. It allows Google to take your personal data from YouTube, Gmail, the search engine, and other products –which will then allow them to give you one identity. They want to see users as a single person across all of Google owned products. This will further eliminate anonymity and discourage users from tailoring their identity based on what they’re using. Combining data is a deliberate act of collecting new data. It also allow Google to use that data in new ways, such as selling your personal information to advertisers who want a clearer image of exactly who you are and they can disseminate your data on different Google products.

They’ll sell information about every prescription they fill at CVS — or every pint of Haagen Dazs at Safeway — in exchange for a steady infusion of $1 coupons. They’ll hand off information about the timing of their daily commute in exchange for a couple of minutes saved at a toll booth every day. They’ll let Amazon track their diaper and book purchases because they would rather not re-enter their credit card number every time they want to buy something

  •  We don’t live in a world where people choose to share absolutely nothing about themselves. There can be a healthy amount of personal information we are willing to give away – if we feel it is necessary, beneficial, and controlled. The examples you listed are choices people willingly made for themselves to make their lives easier. Those people who made those choices know the full consequences and can limit the damage to their privacy. Google collects so much information it rivals any government spying around the world to keep track of citizens. Google admits it has very sensitive information about us and their products are ubiquitous. It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to escape Google, even when you’re not on a Google owned website. Google has numerous tracking tools to keep a watch on Internet users all the time. Internet users have no idea just how much Google collects about them, where they are being spied on, how they can opt-out, or even if their information is safe. At least if I give my personal information to a store, it’s kept limited to that one store. Google follows users everywhere. So please, stop comparing apples to oranges.

“I think people get a pretty decent bargain when they hand over their personal browsing, search, and email data to Google”

  • It’s far from ‘pretty decent’. Google is gouging us, it’s a total rip-off. Google’s currency of choice is personal data not dollars. Google makes over 90% of its revenues from advertising – the company sells our personal data without our explicit consent for huge profits. Google harvests huge amounts of personal data, including but not limited to: age, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, politics, financial information, every website we visit, your location, and the list goes on and on. Google is just one company and this one company knows us better than some of our closest friends. This is not just a simple hand over of a bit of information of here and there – as you tried to downplay it – this is downright alarming and an invasion of our privacy.

Google does its darnedest to sell you stuff you would probably like to buy

  • Those creepy – and yes they’re totally creepy – so called ‘personalized’ ads actually don’t work well. Tracking companies that serve these mutated ads are not doing a very good job of figuring out exactly what we want to buy.  For example, a child might research material on Ford cars for a school assignment and then a few hours later that child receives ads for Ford cars when they never intended on purchasing a car. Now the child knows that somebody was creepily looking over their shoulder and is now trying to sell them something they don’t want. It doesn’t make me want to buy more, it makes me suspicious and it’s a total turn off. If a company gets too aggressive in trying to sell me something, I will buy from their competitor.

This is a fact you cannot change

  • We’re working on it.

If Google… can’t scrape and sort your data…Less of the free stuff you like

  •  Fear-mongering. All we want is to take back control of our personal data and limit the damage to our privacy. It will not result in the doomsday scenario where there will be no Internet. The world won’t end in 2012 and the Internet will still survive if we take back control of our personal data.

Google shrank and simplified their privacy policy…”

  • There is good simplification and then there is bad simplification. The simplification to make something more understandable to the average person is a good thing, but Google hasn’t done this. Google’s new privacy policy takes a few hours to get through and it’s confusing. European regulators have said that Google’s new privacy policy is difficult to make sense of “even for trained professionals”. The new privacy policy also leaves out important details about people’s rights for specific products they use.

 Finally, that little bonus part you wrote to make the Washington Post look bad – again, you’re desperately comparing apples to oranges. By the way, The Atlantic has a ton of trackers on its website – I picked up at least 6 ad networks and 9 ad companies (this doesn’t even include the social networking buttons that track you too). The Atlantic is one of the most tracker infested sites I have come across yet.

And Ms. McArdle, since you care so little about privacy – then please publish everything about yourself that Google has ability to track and share it with the whole world. Let’s see all your searches, all the videos you’ve been watching, who all your friends are on Google Plus, let’s see what you’ve been chatting about with your friends on Gmail, and let’s watch your Hangouts too! Who cares about privacy, right? Privacy is soooooo last millennium.

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