I have long had a love-hate relationship with Google. Gmail is my primary email address because of its virtually unlimited storage, and Google’s search engine allows more data options than any competetitor. On the other hand, like many small website owners who once made extra income from advertising in the early 00’s, I watched as Google monetized and kicked my site out of its search results, then turned around and offered me the chance to pay to advertise on the very same pages that my site was removed from. My site has long since gone away, but it has made me very well aware of one fact: Google privileges its own sites and services in its search results. This can be seen in the pagerank tool, which ranks sites in supposed popularity. Massively popular news sites get a 9. Smaller Google sites get 10s.
You can argue that in a free enterprise system, Google has every right to privelege its own products, and I agree. In turn, I would argue that Google has an obligation to tell you on the search results page that you are not viewing search results from the Internet, but from Google’s monetized version of the Internet. For me, that changes how I view the integrity of their product, and therefore, the integrity of their motivations as a company.
On March 1, Google will begin using information about our email conversations, search history, and social media conncections in new ways. It has always mined that data to sell advertsing, but now, it’s consolidating that data and storing it for perpetuity. In Europe, Google can only store data for 27 days. In the US, they can track me from the first time I logged into my email account and keep that data forever. That makes me nervous because even though Google promises it will do no evil, I don’t know that it has any qualms about turning over data to those who will. We have since the company acquiese to governments before. What is the limit of their data sharing when they want to stay in business?
Those hypothetical questions are necessarily left unanswered because no one can see into the future. Other questions about what Google will do with our data are easily answered, but according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Google has neglected to respond to them:
The Google privacy compliance report, made public today, raises new questions about the company’s failure to comply with an FTC Consent Order. The Order required Google to answer detailed questions about how it protects the personal information of Google users. But Google chose not to answer many of the questions. Most significantly, the company did not explain to the Commission the impact on user privacy of the proposed changes that will take place on March 1. EPIC has filed a lawsuit to force the Federal Trade Commission to require Google to comply with the Consent Order to protect the privacy interests of Google users. For more information, see EPIC v. FTC (Google Consent Order).
That pretty much is the deal killer for me: I’m kicking the Google habit. It won’t be easy because Google has insinuated itself into my internet life, and it will take awhile to disentangle. The first step will be to give the boot to Google+, which had promise but never did anything for me except to give Google another way to track my useage. Harder will be switching search engines, dumping Chrome, migrating my calendar, and changing email addresses. I hope to have all of this done by March 1, when the new privacy rules go into effect. By then I hope to have a new privacy plan of my own, one that won’t include Google.