Google has been doing this for some time with Gmail but never before have they forced their users to comply, nor have they created service-wide profiles based on every service that they offer. Many are concerned that as the cloud-based computing trend builds more and more user information will be added to Google servers. Another concern will be with the increasing popularity of their latest foray into social networking, Google+, if that takes off then entire social profiles could be sold to the highest bidder.
The information Google will soon be compiling on their users will be cached and stored in a centralized location where detailed user profiles are created. User profiles will then be integrated into their search and advertising services to offer their advertisers highly-targeted opportunities, based on intrusive user data.
Google representative, and policy manager, Betsy Masiello, released a statement skirting around the issue of how Google will use this data and instead focused on the new policy’s effect on user experiences. “We’re not collecting more data about you. Our new policy simply makes it clear that we use data to refine and improve your experience on Google,” wrote Masiello. “We’re making things simpler and we’re trying to be upfront about it. Period.”
This move, regardless of ‘spin’, may violate the consent agreement that Google struck with the FTC wherein they agreed that Google could not sell user information to third parties without their optional consent.
This agreement was originally prompted by the FTC when Google attempted to use Gmail user data to launch Google Buzz, a now defunct social networking site added to the Google social graveyard. Inability to add their Gmail users to their social networking sites may very well have been a significant contributor to Google Buzz’s failure.
Privacy community supporters have already called the policy illegal according to Google’s FTC agreement, an agreement explicitly forbidding Google to force its users into new services–even ‘user enhancement’ services. Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Marc Rotenberg, put forward that, “Google is not allowed, under the settlement, to opt users in. If Google goes forward, they may be hit with serious monetary penalties.”
Leading privacy lawmaker, Representative Edward Markey, has announced a probe into how exactly Google is mining and using its consumer data. Markey, who has a strong reputation upholding American privacy rights, is one of eight representatives (Republican signatories include:Cliff Stearns, Joe Barton and Marsha Blackburn, and Democratic signatories are: Markey, Henry Waxman, Dianne DeGette, G.K. Butterfield, and Jackie Speier) sending a letter to Google to probe into the matter—before requesting an FTC investigation. “While Google suggests that the purpose of this shift in policy is to make the consumer experience simpler, we want to make sure it does not make protecting consumer privacy more complicated,” wrote the representatives in their letter to Google’s Larry Page.
Thankfully privacy advocate groups and lawmakers are investigating (and hopefully appealing) the matter, since Google users have no choice in the matter.