Google recently announced plans to condense its 70 consumer platforms into one “main policy.” This will allow the company to collect anonymous advertiser information across Android phones, Google’s desktop apps, Gmail, search and Google+, which is good for their marketing partners but a concern for the government over privacy issues.
“Companies are struggling with how to make privacy data security more tangible to consumers,” said Amy Mushahwar, a data and privacy attorney with Reed Smith. “As for the specific information collection enhancements for Google products and services, Google understands that industry and consumer advocates are watching their every move.”
Google argues that this will make for a more streamlined experience. Privacy advocates, however, are worried that this might create an opt-out precedent rather than opt-in.
“Google’s new privacy announcement is frustrating and a little frightening,” said James Steyer, the CEO of Common Sense Media. “Even if the company believes that tracking users across all platforms improves their services, consumers should still have the option to opt out, especially the kids and teens who are avid users of YouTube, Gmail and Google search.”
“If you want to take your information elsewhere, you can,” argued Google’s director of privacy, product and engineering, Alma Whitten. “We don’t sell your personal information, nor do we share it externally without your permission except in very limited circumstances like a valid court order. We try hard to be transparent about the information we collect and to give you meaningful choices about how it is used—for example, our Ads Preferences Manager enables you to edit the interest categories we advertise against or turn off certain Google ads altogether.”
The danger for Google is that consumers will just say no to them. “People can’t opt out. It’s my way or the digital highway,” said Jeff Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “What regulators can do at this point is questionable, but Google is in danger of tarnishing its reputation and that is troubling for the company in the long run.”