Google Finds That Times Change: Privacy Redefined

October 21, 2016

I read “Google Has Quietly Dropped Ban on Personally Identifiable Web Tracking.” The main idea is that an individual can be mapped to just about anything in the Google-verse. The write up points out that in 2007, one of the chief Googlers said that privacy was a “number one priority when we [the Google] contemplate new kinds of advertising products.”

That was before Facebook saddled up with former Googlers (aka Xooglers) and started to ride the ad pony, detailed user information, and the interstellar beast of user generated content. Googlers knew that social was a big deal, probably more important than offering Boolean operators and time stamp metadata for users of its index. But that was then and this is now.

The write up reveals:

But this summer, Google quietly erased that last privacy line in the sand – literally crossing out the lines in its privacy policy that promised to keep the two pots of data separate by default. In its place, Google substituted new language that says browsing habits “may be” combined with what the company learns from the use Gmail and other tools. The change is enabled by default for new Google accounts. Existing users were prompted to opt-in to the change this summer.

I must admit that when I saw the information, I ignored it. I don’t use too many Google services, and I am not one of the cats in the bag that Google is carrying to and fro. I am old (73), happy with my BlackBerry, and I don’t use mobile search. But the shift is an important part of the “new” Alphabet Google thing.

Tracking users 24×7 is the new black in Sillycon Valley. The yip yap about privacy, ethics, and making explicit what data are gathered is noise. Buy a new Pixel phone and live the dream, gentle reader.

You can work through the story cited above for more details. My thoughts went a slightly different direction:

  1. Facebook poses a significant challenge to Google, and today it does not have a viable option to offer its users
  2. The shift to mobile means that Google has to — note the phrase “has to” — find a way to juice up ad revenues. Sure, these are okay, but to keep the Loon balloons aloft more dough is needed.
  3. Higher value data boils down to detailed information about specific users, their cohorts, their affinity groups, and their behaviors. As the economy continues to struggle, the Alphabet Google thing will have data to buttress the Google ad sales’ professionals pitches to customers.
  4. Offering nifty data to nation states like China-type countries may allow Google to enter a new market with the Pixel and mobile search as Trojan horses.

In my monograph “Google Version 2.0: The Calculating Predator,” I described some of the technical underpinnings of Google’s acquisitions and inventors. With more data, the value of these innovations may begin to pay off. If the money does not flow, Google Version 3.0 may be a reprise of the agonies of the Yahooligans. Those Guha and Halevy “inventions” are fascinating in their scope and capabilities. Think about an email for which one can know who wrote it, who received it, who read it, who changed, what the changes were, who the downstream recipients were, and other assorted informational gems.

Allow me to leave you with a single question:

Do you think the Alphabet Google thing was not collecting fine grained data prior to the official announcement?

Although out of print, I have a pre publication copy of the Google 2.0 monograph available as a PDF. If you want a copy, write my intrepid sales manager, Ben Kent at benkent2020 at yahoo dot com. Yep, Yahoo. Inept as it may be, Yahoo is not the GOOG. The Facebook, however, remains the Facebook, and that’s one of Google’s irritants.

Stephen E Arnold, October 21, 2016


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