Saturday, February 18, 2012

Don't be fooled by "don't be evil"

Yesterday Wall Street Journal reported that Google has been secretly harvesting user information from Safari browsers.  In the headline story, WSJ called out Google's action as "iPhone tracking" which was done against privacy policy implemented by Apple's Safari browser.  Google has been injecting cookie even when users on Safari browser did not opt in to such practice, and just stopped before WSJ cover story broke a few days ago.

It's interesting that WSJ ran this story just as Google tries to expand its social layer across their product offerings.  It's no secret that Rupert Murdoch, the head of News Corp who owns WSJ, has been butting heads against Google.  At the time Google is under increased privacy scrutiny, Mr. Murdoch may have used this opportunity to settle the earlier score with Google.  It's also notable that this story broke while Apple and Google rivalry is heating up as Thomas Claburn talked about on Information Week.

WSJ's explanation of how Google got around Safari privacy setting;
for most geeks, this is not something new.
What is clear, however, is that Google is over-reaching to collect user data even without user consent.  As Google revised its privacy statement to get ready for more user data collection push, Google is no longer playing by its rule, "don't be evil".  Maybe I am naive in thinking that Google would actually stick to its own motto.  After all, Google is in business of collecting user data, and using them to target more and better ads to all of us using their products.

If it is free, you are the product.  Although Google search may seem free, every one of us are paying for the search by accepting the sponsored results to show up on the top.  In some sense, Google has  been increasing the service fee by asking all of us to provide them more data.

Is increasing the fee evil?  No, I don't think it is.  But if you are being charged more and you don't even know by how much exactly?  Hey, that seems pretty evil to me.  And that's what I'm concerned about Google's strategy to combine all their product data to create user persona.  Most non-technical Google users don't realize how much information Google will have about you once the new privacy policy goes in effect.

WSJ may had other motive in breaking this story, but Google has increased their service fee too much for some of us.

UPDATE 2/21/2012 - I made a follow up post on Google privacy, and how they should have handled the privacy to get it right.  It's available here.

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