When you ‘own’ most of the internet or at least own most of our access to it, it’s a constant surprise that Google’s approach to privacy of its users isn’t under more scrutiny. Given the current technology and privacy backlash against the likes of Facebook, Insta and WhatsApp, it is baffling how Google – the biggest technology giant in the world -hasn’t been hit with more privacy fines or a call for greater regulation.
I’m not saying it’s their fault. When Sergey Brin and Larry Page created an easy way to search the World Wide Web back in 1998 (yes I Googled it) no-one could have predicted just how much information the organisation could gather about us. As users we had no idea how much we would reveal about ourselves to the behemoth from our simple searches and just how those personal details could be used to target us, make judgements about us, and even score us. It even changed our language, moving the term Google from a noun to a verb – Google it. 30 years on, and a vastly increased product range later, and Google wants change our behavior again – Googling it, to letting Google do it for us.
A couple of weeks ago, at Google’s annual developer conference the organisation launched another round of genuinely helpful products. CEO Sundar Pichai took to the stage and told the audience that “We are moving from a company that helps you find answers to a company that helps you get things done.”
All of the products Google launched at the conference will support that aim. Whether that’s new phones with the capability to record everything we say; a new smart-screen home device that includes a camera that can face match when you walk past; and other smart devices embedded with cameras and microphones. All of which are inherently invasive when it comes to our privacy.
Google does understand that privacy is key to delivering tech that assists us daily. Pichai went on to say, “This morning, we’ll introduce you to many products built on a foundation of user trust and privacy.”
According to this article from CNN, “The company is asking users to give it even more personal information — and invite its products into more places — at a time when consumers and lawmakers are increasingly concerned about digital privacy.”
So if the next stage in the company’s development means a bigger privacy issue for the user: why are we happy to give our personal info to giant tech companies who know more about us and our preferences than our own family? In my (very humble) opinion, it’s the trade off between convenience and privacy. They’re inversely related. We seem happy to hand over personal data as long as the return is great enough – the ability to book a taxi or to send a message using a voice command versus posting a picture or making a comment on Facebook that is used to judge our voting preferences.
The good news is that Google devices do have the ability to allow users to automatically delete their data after three or 18 months — this rule will apply to the Google Assistant’s history across devices. But it depends on the user to take proactive action. And for those who never read the T&Cs before downloading an app that simply won’t happen.
I suspect that this is battle that will rage on until either the internet is regulated or we all accept that our personal information isn’t, well, personal any more. I’m off now to put on my tin foil hat and suit because, well you know, they’re watching us.