Angles: Are Google’s new privacy settings helpful or invasive?

User-friendly change
By Alison Peymann

On the day Google set to change its privacy policy I was ignorantly searching “free online photobooks” for a magazine writing assignment using my friendly blue, red, yellow and green

search toolbar.

As I discovered, dozens of places that allow users to upload images and send a personalized book to their door exist. Blurb.com, Shutterfly.com and Snapfish.com are among the first listed, and I went to each site to compare their printing services. I finished the assignment, closed those pages and went back to mindlessly scrolling through memes.

Blame it on the caffeine, but I started seeing the same Snapfish and Blurb Bookify graphics next to The Most Interesting Man in the World. But I just clicked out of those pages.

Welcome to the Internet under Google’s new rules.

After the brief feeling of Big Brother watching went away, I welcomed the change. If information about my searches can help advertisers find their target audience more easily and,

more importantly, I might be interested in the unavoidable ads, so why should I complain?

Google is not posing an inconvenience at all. In fact, they’re providing an additional service to web surfers linking to products and deals that pertain to me on pages I am already viewing.

If it helps me avoid “One Millionth Visitor, click here to collect your free iPad 2!!!!” ads, then Google should take my information and give me Target.com and Barnes & Noble buttons.

Google also wants to use past information to personalize search results—which might mean that previous searches will be (gasp!) retained. So if I’m looking up hotel rooms in Chicago then type in “zoo,” Google will take me to the Chicago Zoo before I realize that I forgot to name the city. I’d like to think Google and I are on the same page now.

Most people are worried about losing privacy and potentially their security. Guess what?

Personal information has always been available and ultimately undeletable on the Internet.

There are tidbits about every user floating around the abstract web. Google takes the fragments of information it collects about us on its sites and search engines and keeps it in one

place to increase its services.

If privacy is the concern, paper maps and printed Christmas cards still exist.

Infringement of privacy

By Hal Thompson

About the same time I started reading up on Google’s new privacy changes, I noticed something. When I did a Google search, the space around the Google box would feature items I

had recently viewed online for purchase consideration.

Admittedly, it took a while for me to make the connection between that and what I was learning about Google tracking its users’ searches, gauging their interests and using that information to make money through advertising.

On the one hand, I wonder what took them so long. On the other, it’s a rather discomforting

revelation.

Consider the random topics you have “googled” in your lifetime and then imagine a virtual trail of all those sites. Would you care to have that made public? Knowing it exists and knowing that Google is willing to sell that information is unsettling.

While the vast majority of those links for each of us might be benign, consider the exceptions—situations where a Google search might be used against you. The fact is you’d never see it

coming.

The interesting thing is that Google’s new policy doesn’t necessarily allow more information to be gathered about us; rather, it allows them to do more with it and in so doing reminds us that they have the information in the first place.

One assumes that the real motive for the public notification about privacy changes is not the “simplicity” the new policy will grant, but to prevent future lawsuits from users who might claim to not have known what was being collected and shared with third parties (advertisers).

Since we don’t have a choice—Google isn’t allowing an opt out option for users—each of us must decide if he or she is willing to forego the ease of searching that is associated with the

magic Google box on our computers to protect our privacy.

Not only is Facebook gathering data and photos about us, but Google is tracking our broad interests: from shopping to research to reading to how-to projects. What’s next and where do our rights as individuals entitled to privacy fit into this picture?

And sure, at the moment it’s only advertising, which is annoying, but not necessarily an invasion of privacy or a threat. However, the truth is that corporations often follow suit when one

gets something right. If Google’s new privacy policy is successful, who’s to say that some other company won’t come along and push the envelope (and limit privacy) even further?