What Has Changed
And that’s basically this: Google has spent a lot of money buying up formerly freestanding services like YouTube, Picasa, and Android. And they’ve been operating these services separately in terms of data collection—data on what kind of YouTube videos you search for, for instance, doesn’t affect the ads you see in Gmail. Well, that’s about to change. On March 1st, Google will begin unifying its data collection across all of its services. So the algorithm that determines what ads you see on YouTube will draw not just from your YouTube activity, but also from your Google searches, the content of your emails, your posts in Google Plus, and the list goes on.
Exciting or Concerning?
The idea here is that by unifying the data across all of its services, Google will be better able to give you targeted ads and suggested searches that are highly relevant to what you’re searching for, watching, saying, etc. And, of course, the more accurate their targeted ads are, the more money they will make from them. So everybody wins, right?
Maybe. There are certainly people who feel like this change will improve your user experience with Google’s products. More relevant ads mean that it might be easier for you to find the best prices for products and services you’re looking for. There are others, however, who are uneasy about what this means for individual privacy. While Google’s policy will remain that they will not give personal information (like your name, email, etc.) to advertisers, instead just giving them a profile of your ad-relevant data, some worry that this policy might change at some point. The main source of concern would be the sheer amount of data Google has collected and centralized in a unified profile on you.
A Matter of Choice
Much of the concern over privacy would go away if Google allowed users of their services to opt out of this data collection process. But they don’t intend to do this. The only way to opt out is to stop using Google’s services. And as much as we may wish they would allow us to opt out and keep using the services, we should probably remember that their services are, for the most part, free. As we’ve written before, we’d probably be up in arms if Google started charging for Gmail. They won’t do that, of course, as long as they can keep making money selling ads, which is why they’re making these changes.
So, at the end of the day, are Google’s changes a possible threat to your privacy? Yes. Does this threat outweigh the use and enjoyment you get out of their services? That answer probably varies from person to person. You may be highly concerned about privacy, or you may see Google’s new data collection methods as a good thing that will improve your user experience with Google’s products. Still, it’s important to be aware of exactly how Google will be using your data so that you can make an informed choice about how to use their products.