Users Cannot Opt-Out
The essence of the controversy is that Google will track every action you take on any of the many farflung company sites, and then not only store but correlate it all. The YouTube videos you view combined with your search engine queries and the keywords from your Gmails can provide a remarkably accurate insight into your overall online behavior and personal preferences (which to advertisers is worth far more than all the unobtainium on Pandora). Although this fact alone was enough to inflame privacy advocates across the web and all the way up to the US Congress and the European Union’s legislators, the gasoline that was spread on these flames was Google’s curt statement that users cannot opt out. If you want to sign in to Google services, this is what you agree to.
The FTC Chairman Calls It Brutal
When a company implements a policy that the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission terms “brutal” you know that you’re in for a fight. Google’s assertion that all a user has to do to avoid this data collection is to not sign in to Google services at all is disingenuous. Although you can easily view YouTube videos without signing in, using Gmail or Google+ becomes quite impossible. Google also reserves the right to keep your records indefinitely and won’t even begin to partially anonymize them until a year and a half has passed. Another aspect that has fanned the online pyres is that Google’s Transparency Report clearly states that they regularly hand over user data upon government requests, which will certainly give you pause the next time you get a hankering to visit a site that shows you how to make your own improvised explosive device.
If You’re a Felon, Be Very Afraid
Should we all rush off to download VPN tunneling software to hide from the evil brainchild of Google Orwell? If you are a drug dealer, embezzler, terrorist or other felon you’re likely already on Tor. For the average netizen whose riskiest search query is “medical marijuana” there doesn’t seem to be reason to panic. Certainly there is no comfort to be found in the realization that some Mountain View server is stalking your every online move and correlating every keystroke and mouse click in order to serve you an ad for elevator shoes because you clicked on a page for a blazer in a 38 Short or mobility scooters since you watched an AARP video. Soon all the bits will come together: short, older, balding, flatfooted, myopic, bad halitosis & body odor… and Google will know more about you than your own mother. Some online users will find that shocking and unacceptable, but the vast majority will simply realize that when you go online you have no choice but to abandon most pretenses to privacy.
At the heart of the $200 billion company’s goal to deduce full personal profiles on everyone is the impetus to pitch us ads. As much as some naysayers would like to see a violation of Google’s infamous “do no evil” motto, it is clear that Google is not going to currently personally identify any of its users to third parties and the collected data will be primarily used by unmanned algorithms to sort out aficionados of roll-on vs. spray underarm deodorants: A somewhat innocuous process that has a potential for “evil” that may or may not ever be fully realized.