Google is going to use user data across all of its products causing users to worry about their privacy.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) voiced concern that this standardization would lower privacy overall for Google users. EPIC usually pays particularly close attention to Google business practices, specifically Buzz and Search Plus. They have sent multiple letters of complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
In case you missed it, last year Google was under fire for their Buzz product’s lack of transparency. Although Google claimed that users could opt to not share their Buzz activity, others complained that the option was hidden and that private email addresses were shared publicly. That, EPIC said, went directly against FTC laws about preventing deceptive business practices.
The Search Plus situation started when Google announced that they would incorporate Google Plus information in regular Google Search results. For example, if I search for the actor “Wil Wheaton” on Google Search, knowing it will provide a quick link to his blog (which previously was the first hit in the results), I will now first see his Google Plus profile page, because I follow him on Google plus. EPIC says that Google Plus users shouldn’t have their information revealed in a public search.
The group’s concerns over the lack of privacy from Buzz were validated when last year, the FTC ordered Google to create a comprehensive privacy program, to get third-party audits of its privacy practices for the next twenty years, and to make new features opt-in if they think the feature allows the sharing of private information. The Search Plus fears are still being addressed and have not been resolved yet.
Along the same thread, Google’s new effort to combine user’s usage data into a more perceptive experience online might also be seen in a different light. Google using user data to improve products is nothing new. If you’re like me and are so dependent on Google products that cutting ties seems nearly impossible, Google’s new data sharing between products may be a good thing.
The company is going to improve and integrate products so that users get benefits with whatever product they’re using. With devices the size of our palms, making suggestions, giving directions, and planning our lives, we’re finally reaping the benefits of the future that sci-fi movies have been predicting for the past thirty years – so let’s enjoy it, responsibly.
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