Google's Data Practices Becoming More Aggressive
A recent article published in the Wall Street Journal outlines evidence that Google has been in the midst of an identity crisis over how to use—or not use—the massive amounts of user data it has stored. Over the years, the company has been relatively conservative in its approach to using its data storehouse to target ads at users, but the Journal reports that an internal “vision” document from 2008 suggests that Google has at least been thinking about using data to more aggressively target ads to users. And indeed, Google has become more aggressive since that document was written; they began using cookies to target interest-based ads at users in 2009, a game smaller-time competitors had been playing for years before.
A Symptom of Shifting Attitudes about User Privacy
But Google isn’t alone. Privacy concerns related to data collected online seem to be popping up all over the place now. It seems like every few weeks or so Facebook is in the news, dealing with issues regarding privacy of data and targeted advertising. So what we take from the Journal’s report is less of an indication of some evil conspiracy on the part of Google and more of a pulse reading on the overall practices of the key players in the Web 2.0 environment.
Here’s the thing: we squirm in our seats when we think of all the data that can and is being collected from our behavior online and of how that data can be used. And for good reason in a lot of cases. But we also enjoy using all the free services available to us online, and we expect them to be free. We love free access to search engines, social networking profiles, video websites, email hosting, etc., and we’d be up in arms if we were suddenly asked to pay for such services.
But, of course, companies like Facebook and Google aren’t giving us free services out of the goodness of their hearts; they’re for-profit corporations. The way they keep their services free is to sell ads. And to sell more ads, they’ve figured out that they can utilize the data they collect from profiles, “likes” (in the case of Facebook), and web-browsing behavior to target ads at users based on their interests. And once one of them starts exploiting data more aggressively, the others are soon to follow, which is what we are seeing from Google.
What Do You Think? Are Free Services Worth Giving up Complete Privacy?
So the question we’d like to pose is this: is it OK for these corporations to collect, use, and sell the data they collect from our online behavior if it means we continue to get the services we love for free? And that’s not a loaded question; our sense is that the answer will probably depend on the individual. So what do you think? Comment below, and let us know your opinion.