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Michael McGown Headshot

Another Blow to Privacy -- Now It's Google!

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Google+ has made Google unfriendly.

In its new privacy policy, which all Google users must accept on Mar. 1, Google says in plain language:

When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.

So this is not at all a "privacy" policy. It is a "publicity" policy. It is the exact opposite of a privacy policy. What is really says is quite simple:

"Our policy is that there isn't any privacy; everything is public."

That would have taken far fewer words than the ones Google's lawyers chose to mask the real meaning.

This license is simply too broad for me. While I applaud Google's effort to rid the world of legal mumbo-jumbo, in the process of rewriting its privacy policy, Google has taken advantage of its users by granting itself far more power than most users want Google to have. And, no doubt, Google is heavily relying on users not to read the privacy policy, since most never bother to do so.

This is what created so many problems for Facebook in years past. And in a stupid effort to topple Facebook, Google has changed its focus from being an excellent provider of user services to a social networking tool that many never wanted or needed. Indeed, virtually none of my friends, family and acquaintances joined Google+ and probably never will. What they wanted was the ease of use that Google's services provided.

Google, you want to be all things to all people. It won't work. Stop it and go back to doing what you once did well: totally unbiased search, excellent email, great photo storage, wonderful voice mail, and so many other useful services. Wrapping this all together in a way that users haven't requested is doing the very kind of evil that your founders eschewed.

It would be different if the new policy invited users to go to the Google Dashboard and link those services that the user wanted to be shared. But as with most companies, Google has chosen the approach that is most irritating: the default for everything is on, and it can't be changed by the user.

For me, this policy change means I will have to withdraw from participating in Google+ before Mar. 1, and it likely means I will have to start finding alternatives to the many Google services I currently use, since being logged in subjects me to Google's whims and future policy changes. This saddens me, because I had been a great supporter -- indeed, a cheerleader -- for Google products. But I relied too much upon Google's promise to "do no evil." I thought Larry and Sergey really meant what they said. And I guess they did -- at the time. Now, it's all about the money.

It's a mystery to me how companies can become so blind so quickly. I left Facebook a couple of years ago when it implemented a similar "everything is ours" policy. Netflix, which had been churning along nicely until its CEO repeatedly shot himself in the foot, lost my business last year. In its own way, Google is now aiming at its foot.

I don't think I want to wait around for the fallout.