Friday, March 2, 2012

Google's new privacy policy: Nothing new

Or at least, nothing we didn't think was already happening.

Yesterday, Google's infamous new privacy policy went into effect. I've seen so much ranting and catastrophizing about this, I feel like I have to add to the few voices clarifying what's actually changing:
They aren't collecting more information on you.
They aren't sharing more information with others.
Is that clear enough? All that's happening is that they're pooling the information they already collect through different sites like Youtube and Google Search, instead of keeping it compartmentalized. So instead of Youtube ads being personalized based only on what you search at youtube.com, they'll also use what you search at google.com. That's what's new.

Which is why I'm kind of surprised at the uproar. I thought everyone already assumed they did that! Especially after the Wall Street Journal's big "The Internet is Scary"* series. Google is supposed to be the worst offender, right? Why wouldn't they be using every bit of information they can suck up? Honestly, when the privacy policy thing hit headlines I was kind of impressed that they'd kept this stuff separated.

But really, I'm not surprised. This just reminds me of moments like when the internet started focusing on ACTA after SOPA/PIPA were defeated. There were all sorts of scare stories going around, talking about how ACTA was SOPA squared, when there was absolutely no truth to that. It turns out, people on the internet  will dump a ton of effort into getting outraged about something, without spending half that effort to actually find out what that something is.

*Disclaimer: Yes, there are many problems with the level of personal tracking on the web and the lack of user consent or knowledge. We need a lot more of both. I think the Do Not Track header has potential, as long as it's done correctly. But most stories, including the WSJ ones, just come off as "Watch out! They eat people out there on the internet!"

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