Pay for Your Privacy – The Google Conundrum

How much is your privacy worth?  $10 per month?  $25 per month?  Would you just give it away for free?  All of your private data?  Information about what you like?  Your shopping lists?

Giving it away for free is exactly what you’re doing when you use Google’s products.  Now some people may not care all that much.  Maybe you think it’s okay if Google and other big companies know everything about your online activities, but businesses and especially governments need to think again.


Think this is a whole lot of to do about nothing?  The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) doesn’t.  They filed suit against Google on February 8th to try to prevent Google from combining data from across Google’s services in to a single profile, making all of your data available to all Google services.  In practice this means that you may see advertisements customized based upon the content of your Google searches.  You may also see advertisements when looking at your photos on Picasa based upon the contents of your e-mail or Google Talk chats.

Picture this: a friend is getting a divorce and asks you to recommend an attorney.  You do a Google search for “divorce attorney.”  Later, your spouse goes to read your shared G-Mail account and is presented with a slew of advertisements for divorce attorneys.  Awkward questions ensue…

Another example with photos and instant messaging: you’re having a discussion about good times at college with a buddy on Google Talk.  You mention playing drinking games and going to clubs of ill-repute.  Later that day you’re sitting with your 5-year old looking at family photos on Picasa and a pop-up ad is targeted at you for Viagra (or something worse).  Mommy, what’s Viagra?


So let’s talk about Google Apps.  Google says that Apps’ education, business and government customers are safe and that they won’t use their data for advertising.  Apps isn’t quite free, but it is a very low cost service.  Where is Google making their money then?  Is it from subscriptions?  Really?  I don’t believe Google cares whether people use Apps or not… they’re counting on creating new Google search customers.  Even if they aren’t directly using the data that organizations store in Google Apps the 900 less-well regulated applications that you use when you’re a Google Apps customer aren’t covered by their privacy policy.  Don’t tell me that Google isn’t going to use information from those other apps to choose ads to display to users.

It’s a slippery slope.  Get a discount on your cloud computing e-mail, file storage and sharing but be aware that there is still a cost for using Google’s services.  It’s your information… your privacy.  That’s how you pay for low-cost and free services from Google.

So, am I going to stop using Google services?  I used Google search for some of the references and related articles in this blog post.  I don’t plan to stop using Google anytime soon either.  But am I going to trust my customer’s data to a company that makes 97% or more of their revenue on aggressive search advertising?

Not a chance!

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