Starting March 1st, Google will be consolidating more than 60 privacy policies into one and make your data available across Google products. The company says it is changing to make its services more intuitive and improve search. For example, by tracking what you write about in Gmail, post on Google+ or watch on YouTube, Google will be better able to guess whether you’re looking for a hotel in France or a certain famous blond heiress if you search for “Paris Hilton.”
By unifying all your data, Google products will also be able to complement each other. That means if Google knows the location of your Android phone and sees on your Google Calendar that you’re going to be late for an appointment, not only can it alert you but it can also provide you with driving directions on how to get there through Maps.
There’s been quite a bit of uproar about these changes. For one thing, you can’t opt out.
Second, even though Google has been delivering targeted ads to users for a long time (it reads your email messages in Gmail and gives you ads relevant to what your messages say), with all this aggregated data coming together from different products the company will be able to deliver hyper-targeted ads because it will have a profile about everything you do online: How you spend your time, who you communicate with, what you buy—everything. And some people worry about what would happen should these robust behavioral profiles get into the wrong hands—the government or hackers, for example.
If Google’s data integration troubles you, you could stop using Google services, but honestly, there are so many ways companies are tracking everything you do online you’re not likely to get back much of your privacy by doing so. If you’re not up to speed on data mining, online profiling and the tracking cookies on almost every popular commercial website, check out our story on the subject.
And some people have been recommending that people use Facebook or Twitter instead of Google+, but Facebook is doing just as much tracking of user behavior as anybody.
In fact, what Google is trying to do is become like Facebook. It’s practically ramming Google+ down the throats of users. Users who enter their Google account credentials into phones with Android 4.0 (a.k.a. Ice Cream Sandwich) are now prompted to sign up for Google+. And since mid-December the social network has been integrated into Gmail so users can do things like upload a photo they receive in Gmail directly to Google+ without have to download the image then upload it to the cloud.
And just two weeks ago Google reworked its search engine with “Search Plus Your World” which returns Google+ social content mixed in with the search results. For instance, if I search for the singer “Mayer Hawthorne” the second search result I get is a YouTube video featuring one of his songs that I posted to my Google+ account. Since I am well aware what I’m posting online, I’m not sure why I want my search results clogged up with my Google+ posts.
There’s a reason people call Google a search engine giant. For the company to so thoroughly mess with its core product is truly a wonder and to me sort of feels like a sellout as it tries seemingly anything to gain ground against Facebook. Clearly the Google of yesteryear—one that was careful to never detract from the search box and the core mission of providing the most relevant results—is morphing into something entirely different, a search engine that doctors its results. Only time will tell how consumers react to the new Google.
What’s your view? Do you like or hate the idea of a more intuitive, knowledgeable Google?