Google's New Privacy Policies

Earlier today, Google announced changes to their privacy policies and terms of service. I am troubled that these changes appear to allow greater use by Google of consumers’ information but do not give consumers the ability to opt out of such new uses of their data.

Google’s announcement of the changes provides an example of the new ways that the company will integrate consumers’ data from different services:  “We can provide reminders that you’re going to be late for a meeting based on your location, your calendar and an understanding of what the traffic is like that day.” That might seem great to some users, but others might find it intrusive and invasive. Unfortunately, users cannot opt out of this information-sharing. They have no choice.

Particularly troubling is that the ubiquity and popularity of Google services makes it difficult for users to prevent the collection of this data. Consumers often remain logged in to their Gmail accounts while they use the internet, meaning their use of services like Google Search or Google Maps is being tracked and identified to them. Users of mobile phones running Google’s Android operating system are also required to log in to their Google accounts, according to the Washington Post

The lack of opt-out means users cannot pick and choose which data they want integrated into their Google profiles. Private email messages might contain any number of personal, embarrassing, or otherwise damaging information, and Google’s attempts to amplify and contextualize this information through targeted ads, Maps suggestions, or Calendar reminders could have negative consequences for users. These harmful impacts could range from the inconvenient (spoiling a surprise party) to the truly harmful (popping up a calendar reminder about an evening job interview while you’re at work).

I recognize that some users might find this integration helpful. Other users might not. Unfortunately, by preventing users from opting out, Google has prevented users from deciding how their data is used.