On Privacy, What Google Knows, and Why It Doesn’t Matter   4 comments


On a mailing list I frequent, there has been an interesting discussion of late in regards to privacy and Google.  There are a lot of people out there moving their sites, data, and information off of Google wholesale.  They are saying, in effect, that “Google knows too much about them”.  They feel that some level of privacy is being violated.  Maybe they are right — I honestly don’t know.  But I don’t feel that way, and here is my feeling behind it.

Google provides a wide variety of services.  Some of them are well-known to everyone, such as Search (what pretty much EVERYONE knows Google for), email, and YouTube.  Some of them aren’t as well known – things like Google Reader (for RSS feeds, so I not bouncing back and forth between different blog formats) and Google Music (although I really haven’t started using that yet).  Some of these services I use extensively.  Others I use occasionally, and the vast majority I may not use at all.  But that’s not all that Google touches in my life.  They also run Google Analytics (so people publishing content can see what’s popular on their website, and with who and where…).  Do you see advertisements, either text or banner advertisements, on web pages?  Chances are that they are being served by Google as well.  Google runs AdWords, which are the text advertisements.  They also purchased DoubleClick, probably the most well known advertising distribution network on the Web, some years back.  The end result?  Without some effort, I can’t really remove Google’s data dip into my life…  Nor that of anyone else on the net who is really interested.  (And there will be more on this topic later.)

Even more interesting, however — I’m not certain I CARE what Google knows about me.  Is the fact that I’m a 35-year-old single male with a predilection for pizza, craft-brewed beer (both root and alcoholic), and coffee a national secret?  Even “free content” costs, at some point.  It may be fractions of a cent to deliver, it may be more.  It does cost Google in some small measure to act as a mailbox for me, and deliver messages outbound.  How do they recoup that cost?  Advertising.  But they do it in a generally non-intrusive way, and sometimes the ads are relevant to what I’m interested in.  So yes, I click on them, and may even find what I’m looking for at times.  If they can use the data I run through their services to make those same services more palatable and interesting to use?  Great – go for it, guys.  But I know you need to make a living, too — and as long as you aren’t being too intrusive, you might as well use my data to do it.

Moreso — they are providing value TO me as well.  A couple of years ago, as an experimental project, I turned up a domain for my father’s side of the family to use.  I set it up using the free version of Google Apps, and I started running most of my personal email traffic through it.  I discovered that not only was the system interface simple and easy to use, but that it saved me time and resources managing things that I simply think of as “utilities” any more.  A good case in point:  email.  To keep a domain fairly spam-free would take me, easily, 80 hours a year — that’s 80 hours, guaranteed, of updating and maintaining spam filters, monitoring applications, and dealing with ongoing user issues.  That’s easily $4000 PER YEAR worth of work.  And that doesn’t including the basic items such as hosting a maintaining a server, keeping it relatively secure and up to date, and connected to the Internet.  There was a time that I would have viewed such an item as an interesting diversion and challenge and diversion – but now my time is worth more, to be working on other projects.  But Google Apps for domains is free for up to 10 users in an advertising supported configuration (until recently, it was 50 users, and I still have a legacy domain or two with that), and if you buy the “business grade” service, it is $50/user/year.  That is, by almost any measure, DIRT CHEAP.

Now, I won’t discount that there may be privacy concerns, and there should be better data privacy and integrity laws, such as what we see in the European Union.  I’m considering recommending (or using) Google Apps for Business for a couple of project sites, and I want to see what kind of data privacy laws they have in place before I do so.  Yet the value that they provide me as a user is very high – not only in content, but in time, money, and resources spent elsewhere, instead of keeping my basic infrastructure running.

Posted February 26, 2012 by mec in Uncategorized

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