Google changes privacy policies, will know you better than your girlfriend now!
Google has recently updated its privacy policies, making them shorter and easier to read. However, it is also making changes that facilitate Google in tracking anything a user does across any Google product (think Google, Gmail, YouTube, Android phones, Blogger, etc), and use that information to target a consumer. Of even greater concern, users don’t have an option to forestall data collection about them.
For example, if you spend an hour signed in to a Google account searching the Web for skateboards, the next time you log into YouTube, you might get recommendations for videos featuring Tony Hawk, along with ads for his merchandise and the nearest place to buy them. However, this could also apply to searches relating to sensitive topics such as meetings in your calendar.
Violation of PRIVACY??
Some argue that this is a violation of privacy. Certainly, not permitting users to opt out of allowing Google to collect data deserves scrutiny, and US federal regulators are concerned about Google’s privacy practices. And even if Google were to implement an opt-out mechanism (which it does not have today), how many users know that Google is tracking their every activity on the Web? Most don’t, and given how many users consume Google products across India, this is a huge amount of information being collected without explicit approval.
An opt-in-opt-out mechanism maybe...
Perhaps an opt-in mechanism, whereby users actively consent to sharing their consumption and demographic information with a website like Google, would be the most consumer-friendly way of handling sensitive user data on the internet. And to protect consumers further, only the data collected on the same website could be used for targeting. This would help reduce and prevent the ‘sale’ of data between third parties (a growing practice), and improve consumer privacy overall.
Impact on Indian users
There are also questions of how comfortable India should be with the growing influence, power, and information in the hands of foreign companies like Facebook and Google. Certainly the increasing amounts of data in the hands of large, international internet companies should raise concerns about the balance of power between government and private sector and between domestic and multinational companies.
In many ways, multinational companies know more about the Indian population than anyone in India. Companies like Google and Facebook have brought great innovation, and are changing the ways people consume information. But in a chaotic environment like the internet, regulations are needed to ensure consumers know and actively choose to let their personal data be utilised by private companies.