Friday, January 27, 2012

Google's Change of Privacy Policy and Terms of Service - the Aftermath

So if you haven't been living under a rock, you probably already know that Google is going to change its policies effective 1 March 2012. If you take your time and read some of it (which might be an interesting experience, since how often do we read policies) it's definitely much more digestible and easy to read than most policies and ToS agreements that we encounter in everyday life. Yet, while our friendly internet overlord justifies the change as a mere unification of the existing policies of 60 Google services offered to us for free, but as it is always the case with big companies, conspiracy theories arise even with somewhat innocuous and probably life simplifying changes such as this one.

Soon - all used for ad targeting

The single most important change in reducing the number of policies to 1 is the fact that Google will now collect the data from all the services whose policies are unified in order to "improve user experience". One way to put it is creating more interesting content for the user based on his data, but obviously the most obvious usage of the data is tracking the user's history in order to improve ad targeting. And while you might not be using all of Google's 60 services, you are definitely dependent on quite a few of them. Your searches, some of your e-mail contents, etc. - all of them will now contribute to the ad targeting data. All of your e-mail, searches, and, most immediately - Android phone activity doesn't escape the attention of the ads, should you leave data collection services.

Right, should you leave them active. There's a way to opt out, but the shared criticism directed at Google is really the fact that the entire data collection process should be opt in, as argues the FTC while simultaneously considering charges against the Mountain View giant. It is quite inconvenient that the entire process is going to be automatically opt in and it does take quite a bit of extra effort to opt out.

Most users probably do not know or care enough about opting out, so Google will most likely just benefit by default by getting a larger data pool. And what could that be used for? Well, more data is never worse. One use comes to mind: with more data, anything from clicks through content read on Google Reader, through YouTube preferences can be use to determine appropriate suitable content for the user. Furthermore, it is definitely easier to identify similar users, and - therefore - appropriately improve the clustering algorithms in order to improve ad content. And, as some studies show, better clustering is highly effective, with possibly sixfold increases in click-through ratios for ads utilizing clustering in their guesses.
Hey, that article inspired me.

 Whether it's just a side effect of Google's active effort to make our life easier (and their continued effort to convince us that they're doing good) or an actual evil scheme to get more data is up to debate (questioning of the company's principles is particularly fashionable nowadays). But didn't you know this already? The (not only) search giant really has known everything about you all along. Whether you are a Caltech undergrad, or a 24-year old woman who likes wombats - they know it.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if others are depicting this in a negative light, but I recognize Google's right to make money. Having read their privacy policies over the years, I feel as safe as always with this one, but perhaps my complacency is due to the fact that Google essentially owns me, so why be unhappy about it. ;P

    And as a data-lover, I actually believe that Google will use the data not only to do better target advertising, but also provide a better user experience by exploiting information in social networks.