Stop me if you’ve heard this one:
Big social media company changes its privacy rules. The Internet goes nuts. The tech press fuels the flames. Much hand-wringing and shouts of promises not kept ensue.
This time it’s not Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg who’s losing sleep. It’s Google’s Larry Page. The search giant changed its rules mid-game, and it’s getting an earful.
Google’s privacy changes are both less and more than meets the eye. The less: Google has been collecting all the data in question already, most for a long time. The more: It’s one thing to collect data, quite another to change how you use it without giving your customers any flexibility. Google should be lauded for über transparency, but it’s hard to like ”Our Way or the Highway.”
The concept is pretty simple. You’ve allowed Google to cull a lot of personal facts and behavioral details, but each of the services Google provides has had its own privacy rules, and for the most part none of that information about you in each was indexed against the data in others. Your Gmail details are over here, and your calendar deets are over there, and never the twain met. It makes lots of sense to tear down the walls between all the different Google services you may use, so that your likes and habits and movements and appointments are all aware of each other.
The question (and this is the eternal question about digital privacy): Is it as good for you as it is for Google to have all that information mashed up? I’ve argued that the interests of Facebook, its members and the marketers who want to exploit that audience aren’t necessarily aligned. Facebook also hoards scads of information about you, and for about as long as Google has. The social network’s privacy rules are, shall we say, somewhat more complex than Google’s. And nobody seems to care much, if you can infer that from Facebook’s steady increase in membership. (Now at 800 million, roughly 11 percent of the planet.)