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The Hubbub Over Google's New Privacy Policy

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Google recently announced that it will soon start more closely stitching user information together. Effective March 1st, Google will monitor user behaviors, habits, preferences, concerns, desires, and activity closer than ever before. Information gleaned from YouTube (say, watching a Rush video) may be used to place a relevant ad in Gmail, perhaps for concert tickets.

Many people are crying foul. They lament the privacy ramifications for Google users and the world at large. Are these real concerns, or are they overblown?

Under the Microscope

Google already touches the lives of nearly everyone on the planet every day, whether they know it or not. As such, everything that it does faces intense scrutiny. As I write in The Age of the Platform, the company for years has been about so much more than search. Its diversified platform includes many popular and integrated "planks" -- including, Gmail, YouTube, Docs, and Maps. As such, a change to its privacy policy potentially has profound implications.

From the books and articles I've read (as well as the conversations I've had with Google employees), the company has had the ability to do this for years. I for one commend Google for being transparent about its change in policy. After all, no longer can companies sneak through important changes. We are all journalists now.

The larger question concerns the fairness of the new privacy policy. After all, you can't opt out of the new policy. So, what's a Googler to do?

Considerations

For one, realize that Google makes your life simpler. It saves you time. It saves you money. To me, the "cost" of seeing an increasingly relevant ad in my search results or next to my emails is inconsequential compared to the significant benefits that I realize using Google's products. You don't have to click on ads.

Second, realize that Google is a business. It has to monetize the different planks on its platform. It is a publicly traded company with a fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders. Along these lines, don't single out Google for this type of thing. If you think that Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, and scores of other companies don't use customer and user data in similar ways, you're grossly mistaken.

Finally, in point of fact you can opt out very simply: Don't use Google products. I can't think of a single Google product that has no substitute. Vote with your virtual feet. You can leave Google at any time.

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