Google’s New Privacy Policy: The Internet Made Easy!

In my search for summer internships, I’ve found many of the jobs available are some kind of “social media intern,” requiring proficiency with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It makes me wonder, with Facebook’s increasingly ubiquitous presence in corporate marketing, does the tail wag the dog? We’d like to believe that Facebook responded to the goals of other businesses to reach consumers in the most efficient way. But, to the contrary, it seems as though companies are simply jumping on the Facebook bandwagon only because the competition is… the same way nobody really likes Facebook, it’s just that everyone else uses it. So what about consumers? Neither Facebook nor the companies it sells ads to really seem to really take our interests into account.

Google doesn’t see it that way. The company just released a controversial new privacy policy, which allows them to “cross-reference” all of your Google-related activity. Which means it combines all of your Gmail emails with all of your Google searches with all the YouTube clips you watch with all of your texts, pictures, and apps on your Android phone. It’s not like they didn’t have all that information already – it’s just that now they’re using the sum of your interests to provide you with the “most relevant” advertising. But, Facebook already does that, and how often do you find yourself actually clicking on those ads?

Consumer rights advocates and privacy protection groups are all up in arms about the new policy. The Attorneys General of 30 states have issued written complaints to Google expressing worries that consumers are losing the little autonomy they had over their online information. Some governments have responded to the issue, guaranteeing citizens the “right to be forgotten.”

But some American civil rights lawyers see the issue differently, arguing that the Right to be Forgotten is the biggest affront to free speech of our time. The author likens the ability to delete past online embarrassments to 1984: “We don’t erase people out of history because they have a Right to Be Forgotten. That’s a little too Orwellian. ‘He who controls the past controls the future.’” And it’s easy to see how that right could be abused. Upon release from jail, two German murderers were able to get their names removed from a Wikipedia article about their high-profile victim. Sure, it’s Orwellian, but at the heart of it, the behemoth Internet companies are playing the role of Big Brother.

We decide what we put online, we don’t have to use the Internet, so therefore we have to play by the rules. But in this game, there’s no breaking those rules – we simply can’t. There’s no contesting the increasingly complex privacy policies of every website we log on to. And since they’re changed so often, after a while we don’t even bother to understand them. But it’s wrong to accept these rules as inherent to the Internet – they’re not. The rules are made by profit maximizing companies, not the computer scientists who developed the technology.

Escapism is natural and necessary instinct of the human species. At least we can run away. But on the Internet, we can’t. You can “private browse,” “hide my footsteps,” and “clear browsing history” to purge away all your dirty secrets, but that doesn’t mean Apple and Google don’t have a very permanent file of what sites you visited. Every keystroke is well documented, somewhere – we are all bound to the web.

What does it take to change this? What does it take to make it better? Maybe an anti-Internet revolution is on its way – we’re certainly due for a countercultural movement. Or maybe the Singularity will hit us before we have a chance to consider its implications, and then the computers will decide for us.

Or maybe, contrary to my arguments here, this isn’t really such a problem after all.