Google's new privacy policy!

This is going to be a freaking nerdy post. Watch out! HEY, THIS STUFF IS IMPORTANT!

Well, so says google. I think it is too.

So yeah, google updated their privacy policy today, you probably saw the little pop ups on all their websites (Google, YouTube, GMail etc) advising you of the new policy. Did you read it? I did. Here is a really brief run down of what is changing:

Google is checking the same amount of information on you, but they are using it a different way. Thats pretty much it. Google knows lots about you. Like heaps. What do they do with this data? Well, super interesting. Most of it is sold to advertisers. Advertisers look at what you search for and then can target ads to suit you better. That is fine with me. Why? 2 reasons:

  1. Google doesn't sell your actual identity to advertisers, they serve up an anonymous representation of who you are. Advertisers know I like media arts and computer science and know that I live in Wollongong,  but they don't know I am Rory McKay, or my home address.
  2. I use Adblock, and so should you!

So what are they doing differently now? Well, previously google's 'systems' were separate. Google ads showed results depending on what you searched for, youtube ads showed ads for things related to videos you were watching, and gmail showed ads based on the contents of your email. That just changed. Now google combines and collaborates all your information from across all the google network to super target ads to you (my words, not theirs). So now when I see ads in my gmail, they can relate to the youtube video I watched last night, or that place I looked up last week on google maps. I think that it is pretty interesting in regards to ads, and, you know, it will probably will make me more interested in the ads they display. Ads could become useful! Google could tell that I am looking at media arts websites, and it knows my location, wouldn't it be great if ads showed me when new galleries were opening with exhibitions that I might like? It could see that I am looking at Daft Punk videos on youtube and emailing my friends about wanting to go and see more live music, ads can appear for local shows by daft punk as well as similar bands. More targeted ads would mean less cost for distribution and a higher click rate meaning smaller and smaller people can get ads out and get their message out too.

I am ok with google knowing all this stuff about me for ads. But I am slightly worried for other reasons...

This TED talk highlights some of my concerns. Eli Pariser talks about how google can change the results you see depending on what you have searched before. For example, if I search for 'art gallery', the first result is the art gallery of nsw. Perfect! Well, yes, its where I live. If I lived in NYC and searched for the same thing, I would get results along the line of the met and moma. So what is the problem? Well it's actually pretty great that i get results that are more relevant to me. But is it? It is usefull for things like locations and maybe celebs that I am interested in, but what about politics? What about world news? If I keep on searching for Occupy Wall St. posts on youtube, my google results for 'politics' will start to skew left of field. If I use google news, that will skew as well. Then we get a problem of me being in a little leftist bubble with google filtering my news. Whoa, filtering news? Is this censorship? Hell no! It is google trying to be relevant to me! Google wants to give results that please me, results that make me want to keep on visiting, results that make me want to click on google ads. I go on and on, reading about OWS, never seeing anything that challenges my views. I don't form any new opinions, well at least not any that are my own. My online life is now passing through a filter of things that google thinks I like. Some people may be ok with this, but I am not! I want my beliefs to be challenged! I want other people's beliefs to be challenged!

Think of it this way: some guy is looking up family first on google. He never clicks on links about asylum seekers, never clicks on links about climate change. All he is interested in is footy and fred nile. If google sstarts changing the links and news he sees, he will never see the growing evidence of climate change, google knows he doesn't belive in it. He will never see images of asylum seekers being treated like cattle, google knows he doesn't care about them.

How are we going to grow as people and a society if we are blocked off in our own little bubble? What can we do to stop this? Do we opt out of google? Do we rely on them not being evil? Did I need to come up with another rhetorical question? No.


Anyway, thanks for reading this weird and nerdy rant. Leave a comment below and let me know what you think about the whole thing.

I highly recommend you watch the TED talk that I linked above. Also, check out your Google Dashboard to see what services of google's you use and what digital trail you have left behind.