The policy changes the method of data collection, not the amount. Rather than segregating collected data into a particular silo assigned to a particular Google service, the company will allow the services to share freely with each other. Google says that collected information will remain private and will not be sold or shared without user consent.
Alma Whitten, Google’s director of privacy, product and engineering, took to the official blog to explain the benefits of such synchronization. She wrote, “We can make search better—figuring out what you really mean when you type in Apple, Jaguar or Pink. We can provide more relevant ads too. For example, it’s January, but maybe you’re not a gym person, so fitness ads aren’t that useful to you. 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.”
For those who want to use Google’s services, which are free, it is mandatory to accept the help the company is offering. The closest things to opt-outs: remaining logged off from a particular account while browsing the Web, or cancelling the account. If it’s a service designed to help users, some are arguing, why not include the choice to opt out? Others note that user data can sell for up to $5,000 a head to marketers, and, after Google missed earnings expectations for the fourth quarter, some extra cash might come in handy.
A search-tool comparison
Privacy missteps at major Web portals such as Google and Facebook are hardly new. In 2010, Google was forced to apologize when the ill-fated Google Buzz revealed to the world the contact lists of Gmail users. Buzz was never able to recover from the blow to its reputation and joined the growing list of services that have been shuttered for poor performance.
Google is currently loading many of its eggs into its Google+ social-networking basket — a behind-the-scenes merging of products that parallels the privacy-policy integration that’s already taken place. The recently launched Search Plus Your World (SPYW) feature, for example, melds search rankings with social networking results from Google+, and critics have accused Google of sacrificing search integrity in favor of Plus promotion.
MySpace (NYSE:NWS), Facebook, and Twitter joined together to create a bookmarklet (a tool designed to perform a specific data-collection function) that compares quality social search results to the output of SPYW. Cheekily named “Don’t Be Evil,” the tool uses Google’s own data to create the comparison, which, noted Wired’s Webmonkey, showed that SPYW, which does offer an opt-out method, is an inferior method of searching.
Google has thus far refused to comment on the backlash. The company is sticking by its SPYW product, much as it did for Buzz and Google Wave, and has offered no removal methods to address user privacy concerns.
It’s important to note that, at this point, investors don’t seem concerned with the new policy announcement – Google shares are currently up 0.66% after a 0.53% raise on Wednesday. It will take more than a few missteps to sink this stock.