Friday, March 02, 2012

[Opinion] A Debate on Google's New Private Policy

1. Google's new Private Policy became effective yesterday (Thursday, March 1, 2012).

According to a Google advertising: "So, instead of over 60 policies for different Google products and features, we're introducing just one, with fewer words, simpler explanations and less legal goop to wade through. That means that when you use Google, from Gmail and search, to YouTube and calendar, you can count on one simplified policy that explains our privacy commitment to you."

2. I have heard a debate on the merits of Google's new Private Policy last night (Thursday, March 1, 2012) on PBS News Hour:

(a) the host of the segment was Jeffrey Brown;

(b) the critic was Lori Andrews, professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago-Kent College of Law; and

(c) defending Google was Markham Erickson, the executive director of the Open Internet Coalition, representing more than 50 of the largest Internet companies in the US, including Google:

3. I think Google's new Private Policy is a further erosion of privacy on the Internet, so I sympathize with Lori Andrews' position.

But in my opinion, Lori Andrews lost the debate last night with Markham Erickson, and quite badly.

Markham Erickson main point was that there is a trade-off between a free product and your privacy in using that free product.

Google is a for profit company; in order to provide a free product to the public, it must sell advertising.

And that means giving up some privacy on the part of the consumer.

In actuality, the products Google provides are not free.

Giving up some privacy for Google's advertising is the price one pay for using Google's products.

4. So the point is not absolute: privacy or no privacy.

The point is relative and comes in degree: giving up how much privacy to Google (and other internet companies) is acceptable?

The products Google offers are:

(a) voluntary;

(b) free;

(c) nonessential; and

(d) have alternatives.

How much privacy should one give up in using products with these four characteristics?

5. Lori Andrews: "All the surveys of consumers suggest they'd rather not be tracked over the Internet."

If you don't want Google to track you, then do not use Google's products!

They are voluntary.

Markham Erickson: "Consumers actually do have to opt in order for Google to track a user's activities across the various Google products and services."

And Erickson is correct.

By voluntarily signing up for one or more of Google's services, the consumer has opted in.

Lori Andrews: "That information is being traded on. And you don't have a choice. Google's saying, if you want to use our services, this is the way it is; take your business elsewhere if you don't agree with it."

In my opinion, Lori Andrews lost the debate here.

Of course we have a choice and of course we can take our business elsewhere.

We can exercise our consumer sovereignty by not using any of Google's products!