Google Says ‘We Do What We Must Because We Can’

The title is a Portal reference … if you haven’t played, you should. I’ll provide a video at the end for context. The basic theme is that Aperture Science (Google) does what it ‘must’ (cruel human experimentation in the name of science) because it ‘can’ (no one can stop them). But also realize that it is presented humorously in-game, and I don’t intent it seriously here.

Today we learn that Google is going to be combining all of the login and account data across every service we access with the same credentials.

Yawn, right? Well, not exactly Orwellian, but not innocent either.

Here are some details from the Washington Post:

The Web giant announced Tuesday that it plans to follow the activities of users across nearly all of its ubiquitous sites, including YouTube, Gmail and its leading search engine.

Google has already been collecting some of this information. But for the first time, it is combining data across its Web sites to stitch together a fuller portrait of users.

Consumers won’t be able to opt out of the changes, which take effect March 1. And experts say the policy shift will invite greater scrutiny from federal regulators of the company’s privacy and competitive practices.

The move will help Google better tailor its ads to people’s tastes. If someone watches an NBA clip online and lives in Washington, the firm could advertise Washington Wizards tickets in that person’s Gmail account.

Given that once you login to one Google site you don’t have to sign in elsewhere, for most people it is likely puzzling that Google didn’t already do this.

The rationale is clear – money. It isn’t about consolidation of resources or anything else, as those are trivial items for something handled the way Google does things. It is very much like the article says – what you do on one site allows them to better tailor their advertisements to you … and more relevent ads means more clicks means more people buying, which in turn allows Google to get more ad revenue.

I am actually quite fine with all of that. This IS Google’s core business, after all – Search. I was listening to some out of print music on YouTube yesterday and the sponsored video was for the Google Nexus. I thought … how useless. Sort of like how on Google Music they always try to push pop crap my way in spite of me having no interest at all in the genre. If they combined resources maybe the crap they pushed on me would at least be less nonsensical.

But then, I would rather them NOT push things on me at all. And that is where there is a problem. There is no opt-out. They WILL gather data about you (and always have been), they WILL combine that data, and they WILL turn those metrics into tools to push more and more stuff at you in a way that will sometimes be identified as ‘sponsored’ … but more frequently will be hidden like the way they have buried billions of pages of data to force Google+ down users throats.

The final benefit for Google is it allows them to simplify their Privacy Policies, which is one tick off a growing list of reasons they are under investigation globally.

But there are many who are very skeptical of anything but detriment to users:

“There is no way anyone expected this,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy advocacy group. “There is no way a user can comprehend the implication of Google collecting across platforms for information about your health, political opinions and financial concerns.”

Added Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass), co-chair of the Congressional Privacy Caucus: “It is imperative that users will be able to decide whether they want their information shared across the spectrum of Google’s offerings.”

Why do I say that? If you go to YouTube there is nothing that says it is Google. At least Picasa is identified as Google. Why does it matter? These days, there are so many sites where you can ‘login with Facebook’ or ‘login with Twitter’ or ‘login with Google’ or whatever that it isn’t clear what that means in terms of what happens to your data! If you are like me and many folks I know, you have many interests from work to family to hobbies and friends, and don’t always want them to overlap.

And if you ask Google NOT to accumulate all of your data to use against you as an advertising tool, they will tell you … I’m sorry, I’m afraid I can’t do that.

Here is the great credits video from Portal with the GlaDOS-sung version of Jonathon Coulton’s ‘Still Alive’ … enjoy!


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