Today, unless you very carefully limit what you do online, using the Internet almost certainly means using Google services—or at least exposing your activities to Google data collection.
Google operates the most popular search engine in the world. Google’s YouTube is the most widely used video service. Google-powered Android smartphones have the largest market share in the nation. Thousands of websites use Google Analytics to collect user information—information that is shared with Google.
Now Google has announced that it plans to align data collected across its services to develop highly personal profiles of Internet users. Can users opt out? No. Do users have the chance to opt in? No, again. Does this practice represent risk and intrusion for our children and families? Absolutely.
While Google seems determined to run roughshod over American consumers, a group of 36 state Attorneys General has rightly stepped forward to question Google’s actions and request a meeting with Google CEO Larry Page. This is a welcome first step, but it must be followed by action. Google should reverse course and provide real options to consumers—or law enforcement should fulfill its duties to protect adults and children alike.
What is at stake? Google could use the personal profiles that it builds in a number of ways, such as selling data than enables vulnerable children to be identified. Google itself has a history of privacy and security lapses, which makes its unauthorized stewardship of personal data particularly alarming. In addition, if Google sells or leases data to others, this increases the likelihood of a data breach. Many child predators are highly adept at using technology and would be certain to avail themselves of rogue data about children and families.
For young people, particularly teens and tweens, the threat to privacy posed by Android-powered smartphones is particularly concerning. While mobile phones provide security on the one hand, data tracking and even identity theft pose risks on the other. As a dominant operating system and search provider in the smartphone market, Google should be a leader on privacy protection, not privacy exploitation.
In addition to weakening its own privacy policies, Google has also been found to be circumventing privacy policies and functionality of other technologies, notably Apple’s Safari Web browser (first reported in the Wall Street Journal). In addition, last year, Google paid $500 million to settle an investigation about its participation in promoting illegal pharmaceutical sales, which put the public health at risk.
Google’s repeatedly dismissive approach to following consumer privacy and protection laws clearly warrants inquiry—and potentially action—by state and federal authorities.