COMMENTARY: I keep hearing and reading that Google and Facebook are changing their polices about handling our personal information and that the White House, Congress, consumer groups, regulators, and their millions of users are concerned.
Then I heard a recent interview with Facebook founder Mark Zucherberg that asks him if he thinks that Google is trying to compete with Facebook and his answers are evasive and so I know that the interviewer is on to something.
Mark Zucherberg admits that Facebook has recently hired about 200 key Google employees and that he thinks people are interested in “personalized search.”
He gives the example of someone interested in buying a car and doing a Google search that finds hits about a particular car make and model with prices from various dealers. Then someone does a Facebook search for the same information and finds what “their friends” experiences have been with that make and model of car. So I get his point: people are interested in both types of searches and maybe even more interested in the “personalized Facebook search”!
This change effects Google Gmail, Google+ (their new social network), Picassa (photo-sharing site), and other services that require sign-in. Google says it promises not to sell your personal information and to not collect any more data on its users than it already does.
I do not think this is very comforting to Google’s estimated 350 million Gmail users, many of whom use it to store contact lists, photos, and legal documents. I am glad I resisted the temptation to use Gmail years ago because it was free. I would not like Google now to be able to use years of my sensitive personal and professional information on Gmail and other Google programs to create a detailed profile of me.
I am glad that the Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether Google uses its leading position in online search to harm competition. See Senators Kohl and Lee Urge FTC to Conduct Antitrust Investigation of Google
So Google has left its Gmail and other product users with no choice. The inconvenience of moving to an entirely new email program is perhaps worse than changing a mailing address or a bank account.
Critics says that Google’s business plan was clear all along, we just didn’t realize the personal ramifications and didn’t anticipate the effect competition from Facebook would have: Glean information from consumers, sell ads, and keep everything free. And now mine it for all its worth to personalize ads and search to compete with Facebook.
So now let’s try to anticipate what else is going to happen with our sensitive personal and professional information that is out there and demand more protection upfront before being lured in by free tools.