Google – Let Us Opt Out of Your Data Mining Machine

By Doug Miller

The French data protection agency (aka the CNIL), acting on behalf of a large group of European data protection agencies, today announced that it was taking action to push Google to make a number of changes to its privacy policy that came into effect earlier this year.

One of the big issues for the CNIL is the lack of control for the user over the amount of data that is collected when you use a Google cloud service or how that data can be used. There is no opt-out for users if they don’t want their browsing habits and internet content mined for the purpose of enhancing Google’s search or displaying more relevant Google ads.

Google’s answer to this is “competition is one click away.” If you don’t like how Google treats your private data then you can use someone else’s product.

Yet this answer does not ring true for users who are forced to use Google’s services because their employer or school has adopted Google Apps for Business, Education and Government. In this case, your employer or school has signed up for Google Apps but you, as the user, are the one who has to live with the data mining that goes on every time you use the service. Somehow this does not seem right. All Google Apps organizations that pay for these services and their users should have the ability to not pass any data back to Google beyond what is needed to run the service they have signed up for.

Google will tell you that special privacy agreements apply to enterprises, schools and governments but there is increasing evidence that this is simply not true. A visit to Google’s own web pages promoting these services always takes you back to the same privacy agreement that the Europeans have an issue with. The same privacy policy that is used in Google’s free consumer-oriented services. The same agreement that gives Google the right use pretty much everything that happens in your internet session and mine any data that is input while you are using any Google service. This includes your Gmail, your Google searches, what YouTube videos you watch, your Google+ posts, which numbers you call on your Android phone, and where you are located when you use a Google service. How does Google use this information (another question the European’s have asked)? The answer is pretty clear if you read the Google privacy policy. It uses this information to enhance search results, display more relevant ads, to improve existing services and to develop new services.

So, you may ask, what has this got to do with having an email account for a business or school, or creating documents for a government job? Well – nothing actually. None of this is required for providing these services. You could even go so far as to say that this is none of Google’s business. Yet in reality, this is exactly Google’s business. This data collection is purely to benefit Google – the company that has stated it wants to organize the world’s information (including all of your information) and the company that makes about $40 billion a year from advertising based on leveraging all that data that it has “organized.”

The Europeans are onto something here and we in North America need to pay attention. As individuals, students and workers, we cannot afford to let this become the norm for cloud services. Google, give us our digital lives back and let us opt out from your data mining machine.

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