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article imageOp-Ed: Never Googlers — A very negative view of Google takes root

By Paul Wallis     Jul 24, 2019 in Internet
Sydney - Google is a super-magnet for controversy. Now, people are actively trying to avoid it, mainly due to privacy issues and tracking. The “movement” is low profile, but it has quite a few points to make. Google should be listening.
The “Never Googlers” mindset seems to be the result of many years of public discontent over tracking in particular. People simply do not like the level of tracking or the fact that it can crop up whenever they do anything online. The Surveillance State it isn’t, but it looks like it, and that’s exactly what people don’t like, with a vengeance.
An interesting article on The explores the many and various reasons people have decided to ditch Google. Many of their arguments will look familiar but consider for a moment how much effort is required to “never Google”. It’s not easy. Read the comments section on The article for an insight into this perception of Google.
Depending on your point of view, Google are as polarizing in their own way as political divisions.
They’re typically seen as:
1. Innovators who created the internet environment we know today from a garage.
2. Just a search engine, not too fussed about data gathering.
3. Corporate fat cats selling private data for profit.
4. Support in practice for a whole range of means of very high level of data gathering about individuals.
5. An internet monopoly, plain and simple, and to be distrusted as such.
The theory of never using Google is to protect your personal data as much as possible. Many Never Googlers advocate using a different search engine, DuckDuckGo, for example, because that search engine doesn’t collect user data. Even so, Google really is everywhere.
Being everywhere, in fact, is one of the reasons for the extreme wariness of Never Googlers. The company is pervasive, involved at some level in everything.
Is Google a genuine threat to personal privacy? Yes and No.
Google’s business has evolved to the point where tracking is very much a core business operation. It generates big money, and its supporters and detractors basically say whether this is good or bad. That’s a bit too simple.
In practice, if the Google-user relationship is straightforward, the major risk is likely to come from third parties who can access data, legally or otherwise. Google shows no interest in much more than basic info. If you buy a packet of cereal, there’s no risk of collateral damage, for example.
If, however, any bit of data can assist a third party to steal your identity, or otherwise penetrate your privacy, even through such an innocuous, (and let’s face it, very uninteresting) bit of information, it’s big trouble for someone.
Google is not immune to data theft. They’re just better at avoiding it than most. They’re technically in advance of most threats, but you couldn’t say all threats. They’re a natural target for hackers, both state-backed and criminal.
It’s not like they don’t know this. They have a pretty reasonable record, to my knowledge, of remaining reasonably chill in a very hostile environment. They’re not immune, however, in the sense that even Google Chrome and Cloud data has been hacked, according to some current news.
That said – How many Google users have had major negative experiences as a direct result of using Google? It’s the world’s leading search engine, used by billions of people every day. How many serious complaints are there, in fact? There would inevitably be a few, but in proportion to scale, it’s unlikely to be a major percentage, unless a lot of cases are going unreported. In that sense, Google isn’t much of a threat, at least not very visibly, like to the extent of class actions, legislation, etc.
(Yes, I know the EU has passed various laws against Google, etc. and there are other statutory issues, but this is about privacy, not regulation.)
Why Google should be listening hard
One of the problems with these grass roots basic issues is that not much is made clear. “Some people don’t like Google” doesn’t’ say a lot, and nothing easily identified and fixed. The criticisms are very general in nature.
However – The usual pattern for a cluster freak out online is that someone starts complaining before the fan is hit with something monumental. Google would know much more about possible vulnerabilities in its system than anyone else. Joining the dots might be a good idea.
The fear over risks to personal data doesn’t need explaining, or justifying. It’s real enough and legitimate enough to convince a fence post. The new tech, particularly A.I. coming onstream now doesn’t particularly reassure anyone that things are getting safer.
Please note, on the topic of privacy safety: I could write a book on this, but have to stick to the Never Google topic - Bear in mind also that most people talk about Google tracking, but seem to leave out site tracking, which gathers even more specific data if in a rather haphazard, user-by-user form. That data is often far less secure, and usually does contain multiple identifiers. Consider the gigantic Yahoo hack of a few years ago, for instance. Google isn’t the only issue in user privacy, by a very long way, and it’d be nice if people remembered that rather dangerous global fact.
Google could, and in my opinion should:
• Recognize that privacy is sacred to everyone and a true human right as a basic operating principle.
• Understand that what people want to be private can be anything and everything.
• Take all reasonable steps to ensure that the principle of privacy is never turned in to a nitpicking exercise. People should be able to specify “don’t track me” anywhere. (They’ve been doing that for years in terms of ads, for example; just extend that basic idea, and you don’t even need new code.)
• Take positive steps to ensure that data is a risk-free as possible for their users. No ID, etc. would be the basic premise for this rather simple but effective option.
If that sounds OK, you’ll notice that I’ve also just suggested neutering one of Google’s core business revenue streams. That fact should be recognized in the privacy debate – Google can’t just drop everything and forego revenue on that scale. For privacy to work, the principles have to deliver better business options and practices.
A better option which will both protect privacy and deliver a good alternative to the causes of complaint therefore has to be created.
Just a few thoughts about that:
• Keep the raw tracking data secure and not user-specific. Don’t sell that data, but sell safer generic sector data which can’t be identified at all. (Note also that the private user data goes stale pretty fast, too, and isn’t necessarily related to any sort of meaningful trends, sales, etc.)
• Develop new, more privacy-positive data which is marketable and perhaps industry-specific. (Just ask market researchers what they actually need to know, and privacy isn’t even an issue; it’s hard figures they need, not names and addresses.)
• Google generates a lot of passive data which could be leveraged in to market value without privacy as an issue, too. Large scale user patterns, for example, don’t need IDs, either.
I hope that helps…?
Full disclosure: I’m a Google and Google AdWords user, and have received payments for Google services.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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