Google is facing severe criticism from several quarters after it revealed its plan to link user data across its online services, including email, YouTube and social-networking. Many say Google's move is an unprecedented invasion of privacy.
The Washington Post says Google is seeking to collate a "massive cauldron of data" about its users. Privacy advocates say Google is violating privacy of its users who have previously not had their information shared across different web services. According to The Washington Post, "A user of Gmail, for instance, may send messages about a private meeting with a colleague and may not want the location of that meeting to be thrown into Google's massive cauldron of data or used for Google's maps application."
Google's new changes are due to take effect on March 1 and users won't be able to opt out.
Business Week reports Google already has more than 70 different privacy policies governing its various services, ranging from YouTube to Gmail and Blogger.
Google, according to its privacy director Alma Whitten, says separate policies for various products is “at odds with our efforts to integrate our different products more closely so that we can create a beautifully simple, intuitive user experience.”
Larry Page, co-founder of Google, reclaimed his position as the company's CEO on April 1, 2011.
This is not the first time Google is attempting to link user information across its services. The last attempt provoked widespread complaints and led to the failure of its Buzz social networking service.
Google is however hoping to avoid the pitfalls of its Buzz misadventure and it is attempting to make the new policy seem like an exciting innovation.
According to Google's director of privacy, product and engineering, Alma Whitten, in a blog post: "If you're signed into Google, we can do things like suggest search queries or tailor your search results based on the interests you've expressed in Google (Plus), Gmail and YouTube...We'll better understand (what) you're searching for and get you those results faster...If you're signed in, we may combine information you've provided from one service with information from other services. In short, we'll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience."
Google challenging Facebook
Google's social networking service Buzz, was shut down last month after two years, allowing it to focus efforts on challenging Facebook with its Google+ service. But Google's efforts to promote its Plus service has been met with objections claiming it is taking unfair advantage of its search dominance to drive traffic to its services.
Business Week reports that Google's major competitors such as Facebook and Twitter, say the new move favors Google's social network on its search engine service and breaches its promise of providing "objective" search to its users.
Vivian Reding, European Commissioner for Justice, also said: "Google was quick. Google made the first in the step of more privacy rules. I can only applaud more companies to try to move in the right direction."
The Daily Mail reports Google reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission that forbids it misrepresenting use of personal information and sharing user's data without approval. Google also agreed to biennial privacy audits for the next two decades.
Why does Google want to collect information about users?
Analysts say the most important reason why online services such as Google and Facebook want to collect information about their users is to develop better targeted advertising. According to statistics, Google users who choose personalized ads are 37 percent more likely to respond than those who choose non-personalized ads.
The Daily Mail reports that Google's urgency follows poor revenue growth performance from its advertising network. The company's fourth quarter earnings report showed the company's average revenue per click fell 8 percent from the previous year. Google shares have fallen 9 percent since the report was released, closing on Tuesday at $580.93, down $4.49 for the day.
Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google.
Business Week points out that in the final analysis, the tension is between Google's benefit and benefit of the user. The core question in this context is: With Google collating and unifying data across its services, who does it make things easier for? Google tends to say it is for the user. But critics are convinced that Google is thinking mostly about its advertising revenue and is less concerned about user privacy issues.
But Forbes agrees with the view that the "tech press" is biased against Google, writing: "When Google starts bundling everything it knows about its users and selling that to insurance companies, background check companies, and the Department of Homeland Security, that’s when I trot out the 'evil label.' But using information from Gmail to suggest more appropriate YouTube videos or reminding an Android smartphone user that they have a Google calendar appointment in a half hour on the other side of town doesn’t strike me as the work of Lucifer."
But the question some are asking is, is it wise to wait until then?