“You’re late.” Thanks Google…

Easily imaginable: you’ve dutifully updated your calendar with emailed information about the meeting’s start time. Thirty-minutes prior, you’re hungry. You think: just enough time to squeeze in a bite to eat. The line is long, but you’re starving, so food takes precedent. Moments later a text: “You’re late! ;) <3 ur bigbro Ggle.” Creepy.

On January 24, Google announced it’s new integrated privacy policy that will “streamline your Google experience” and make day-to-day living that much easier. Using the previously described example as a ‘benefit for users’. Yay?
All most 21st-century savvy citizens already use these products. All they be giving up is
privacy - and lots of it. According to Mashable, each user values at $5,000 per to Google.

What’s more, the fact there is no opt-out it makes it seem like they know what’s best. Unlike liTunes, a closed system) when using current Google products, there is no choice for adopting this new model other than not using the service at all. Considering that Google is the world’s largest search engine, is that a viable option that we can comply with today? What happens at their next stage?

Google has defended their change with vocabulary like “more transparency” and “choice”, (from their email to Gmail clients). Transparency is a nice concept. David Brin suggests that a Transparent society will be an equalizing power between larger groups (companies or governments) and individuals. However, even in Brin’s view ‘true transparency’ means that you’ll be able to be more aware of what’s being integrated. And here, Google can’t necessarily claim a two-way street, though it likes to acknowledge their attempt to do so. From another article covering the issue:

“It will let you opt in if it wants access to personal information relating to medical facts, ethnicity, or value beliefs, nor will your information be shared with it’s advertising network, Google DoubleClick.”

This seems to challenge their original motto of “don’t be evil”.

Traditionally, the perspective of privacy comes from either a law or philosophical background, but there’s always an ‘ick’ factor that people point to defend privacy rights. Helen Nissenbaum takes a philosophical perspective suggesting value of privacy from three camps: individuals, relationships, and benefits society on a holistic approach. As individuals, we present ourselves in varying lights to different people or publics. As we expose or share more details of ourselves to people leads to a sense of intimacy, which we use to calculate our interactions and build relationships with others. In Privacy in Context, she states that as a society, we trust that there is a certain respect based on common value systems – without protecting privacy on a societal level there can be no expectation of privacy individually..

As online reputations become more prevalent as a use of judgment from everything to brands, online dating, even employment – how fast are we getting to the point of sharing everything? How much would we like to hold to? How much are we comfortable giving up?

The fact these questions are inevitable suggests that the only question that remains is: How quickly?

Another article highlights kids and teens use of Google products – how will they be affected? Juxtapose this ‘cross-platform sharing’ with the idea that teens are now sharing online passwords as a way to display intimacy in romantic relationships (source) and society seems to have an imbalance.

Government is watching, but notoriously slow to react – especially such a powerful lobbying team of Google. Just last year the FTC settled a previous privacy matter with Google. In their latest privacy update, officials commented that “it’s imperative for users to understand what of their information is shared.” But how can are even tech-savvy citizens to be aware of such things when even Jeffery Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy states, “There is no way a user can comprehend the implication of Google collecting across platforms…”

Lauren Barnett

Lauren graduated from the University of North Carolina at Asheville in 2008 with a BA in Mass Communication. Upon graduation, and at the suggestion of a friend, she moved to Philadelphia to explore the 'real world' outside of academia. Ousting herself out of her comfort zone and plopping herself in the middle of a diverse city with thriving culture, she found work in a pizza restaurant, which was quickly followed by a return to the academic world, with a position on a peer-reviewed science journal. Simultaneously, Lauren worked closely with a youth literacy, after-school program, participating in the local art scene, hoping to one-day return to an academic setting separate from images of dissected nude mice. As a first year student in the CCT program, Lauren's interest currently include from net neutrality, education and technology, and the new role of journalism in the era of the Internet.