I’ m not ready to break up with Google

I’ m not ready to break up with Google

Originally published @ www.studyingsocialmedia.com

Last week Wednesday’s class conversation began around SOPA . . . this week Google took center-stage as the current news topic of interest.

The release of Google’s proposed privacy policy gave those of us with Google accounts plenty to consider.  The discussion made me think about what it would take to delete my Google account and discontinue my relationship with the Internet giant. (See CNet’s coverage)

A portion of Google’s email message to me outlining what they were changing in their privacy policy and why.

The core of today’s privacy controversy seems to be the company’s desire to interconnect data gathered from their wide range of product offerings.  While Google is mostly known as a web search company with strong email and marketing services, their offerings are as diverse as music storage, blogging platforms,VoIP services and dozens of lesser known products.  Data collected independently from any one of these services does not have nearly the value as data combined and cross referenced among all of Google’s offerings.

Google has to be one of the largest data aggregators in the world.  It is no surprise that privacy advocates, consumer watchdogs and individuals are concerned about the amount of accumulated data controlled by Google and how they will use it going forward.  But even with our concerns about how Google may use our data it seems that some of us are not too anxious to break up with Google over their proposed privacy policy.

According to December 2011 numbers from comScore, Google’s family of web-sites continue to be the most visited destinations on the Web.  During the month of December there were more than 187 million unique United States users on Google sites.  Like most sites on the Internet every visit includes data collection about those visits.  It is important to understand that the default setting for every common web server on the Internet provides for the collection of information such as your operating system, the name of every page, image or file you request on a server, the page you came from before visiting a specific server, your web browser, time and date information and even your specific IP address.  This data collection happens everywhere you go on the Internet and it provides web site operators with a powerful data set for making strategic and tactical organizational decisions.

The concern about Google is not so much about data collection (which everyone does) but it is more about the size of the data set and the mind-boggling potential for cross referencing the data across numerous sources.  Cross referencing this data will take data of high value and convert it to information of exponentially higher value as additional data insights are formed.

With nearly 187 million unique visitors in a month, this means that each one of these people either knowingly or unwittingly contributed to Google’s trove of data.  It is not as if visitors did not get anything in return.  Google users like myself enjoy relatively good search results, excellent email services,  website traffic analytics and collaborative tools at no direct charge.    In addition, we are able to purchase services like cloud storage and online marketing products that have proven themselves to be a good return on our investment.

A recent review of my personal Google account using the Google dashboard revealed that I use more than 100 web sites, devices and applications connected to more than 45 different Google products.  A search of my Gmail account found my original welcome email from November of 2004 (see Gmail is pretty handy).  This means my “log-in relationship” with Google has been going on for 7 years, 2 months and 2 days (but who’s counting).  There is a lot of history there.  Clearly I am fully entangled with this company and not sure under what circumstances I would break things off.

During our class discussion on this topic one of our students tweeted:

The student’s comment resonated with me as a free market advocate.  But Maria’s reply turned out to be even more reflective of my feelings :

As we continue to intertwine our lives with privately provided technology solutions, separation is not easy.  I would like to think that I am willing to disconnect myself from Google in an altruistic protest for what is right, but I am not sure that is the case.  They are still servicing my needs in a form that seems to out weigh the potential downside.  What would Google need to do to break off our long relationship?  I am not exactly sure.

As a company with a motto of “Don’t be evil” I wonder if we may be willing to accept just a little (more) evil from Google in exchange for continual access to some really nice services that we can not seem to live without.



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