Sex, Lies and Search Engines: Why Everyone is Wrong about Google’s Privacy Changes

Monday, 06 February 2012

Recently I wrote quite a scathing blog post about how Google is evil for tinkering with search in order to get its own social networking site higher up in results; thus ruining the internet for everyone.

The world’s favourite search engine has caused mass outrage again with its latest announcement  –  this time about changes to its privacy policy. My reaction to mass outrage is usually to take the opposite view because it’s fun to do so and also because it makes for a much more interesting read. So today I am going to argue that all these people up in arms about Google’s privacy rules are wrong. And in fact, it’s not just belligerence for belligerence’s sake – I actually really believe that Google isn’t at fault this time – and so do the rest of us here at Zeta.

As one team member declared; the general public are crying wolf, but like sheep, they’re just following what’s in the media.

News Flash: This Isn’t News!

The media has extensively covered the matter of Google’s privacy policy ‘changes’ since the announcement was made last week. Google hasn’t actually made any massive alterations to its policy, but here’s why it’s become such a big deal, IMO:

On 30 January, Google’s privacy laws were the subject of criticism at the Leveson inquiry. The Leveson enquiry can be divided into two subject areas. The first is supposed to deal with the twisted culture of phone hacking that was unearthed at the News of the World; a symptom of inherently lazy journalism (what happened to the good old days when reporters used to make up the news?)

The second purpose of Leveson’s investigation looks at the type of information that gets into the public domain, and raises some difficult issues about censorship and freedom of speech. This also means that celebrities, politicians and other well known figures with a vested interest in their public persona are now using the investigation to take control of the media.

So not only does this open up a massive can of worms about whether celebrities get to have the power to decide what is allowed to be printed or published online, it also means that we’re subjected to emotional courtroom speeches about the trials and tribulations of dating Jude Law.

Sex, Lies and Search

One well known figure who must be particularly keen to put a leash on Google is former Formula One boss Max Mosely. Earlier this year, Mosley was left with unfertilised chicken embryo on his face after the News of the World released video footage of him engaging in an (alleged) sex orgy with a twist (it was Nazi themed) (#schoolboyerror).

At the Leveson enquiry Mosely denounced Google’s privacy policy because the search engine could / would not remove all of the offending video footage from its cache. So of course his much publicised wrath made it into all of the papers.

Now I’m not saying that all politicians, celebs and business figures are hiding skeletons in their walk in closets. But then who doesn’t have secrets they wouldn’t want published all over the web? (For the record I can confidently say that none of mine involve crotchless Waffen SS uniforms) (yet).

Closets and old bones aside; if you rely upon public opinion to make a living, you’re probably going to take any opportunity to try and stop unsavoury details leaking into the public domain. And when famous people kick up a stink, it usually makes big news – hence the amount of press coverage concerning Google’s privacy policy.

The public’s willingness to get sucked in by the ensuing media frenzy means that suddenly the finger of blame is being pointed at Google instead of the phone hackers. If you listen closely, you might just hear the sound of journalists high-fiving across the land.

Why Everyone is Wrong

It’s easy to get fired up about an issue when there’s hype waiting down every metaphorical media alley (and all over the internet if you don’t frequent metaphorical alleys). However for all the news frenzy, Google hasn’t actually made any major changes to its privacy policy at all – it has just reformatted the way that the information is displayed to create a one-size-fits-all set of rules.

Google won’t be collecting any more information than it has always done. For the majority of us non celebrities there are far worse offenders at gathering our personal data on a daily basis. Unlike Google, there’s no way of escaping these critters, unless you fancy starting a new life under the sea. So whilst I wouldn’t advocate uploading pictures of your bum to your Flickr, I believe that the common or garden services we use every day are gathering far more juicy details about our lives than the internet currently does.

Data Collectors which are Way Scarier than Google

1) Tesco Do you have a club card? Every time you use it, Tesco gathers information about what you bought, how you paid, where you bought it from and for how much money. From the horses’ mouth: “Tesco collects information we learn about you and your visits to our web site and other sites accessible from them. We also collect information about the transactions you undertake including details of payment cards used.”

2) Your debit card provider This one is particularly scary – see  example #1; apply this policy to every single purchase you make with your card.

3) The government Did you take part in the 2011 census? If so you’ll have provided details of race, religion, sexuality and earnings about everyone who lives at your house and any regular guests who stay over. And for anyone who didn’t send the form back; there’s a £1,000 fine with your name on it.

4) CCTV Britian is the most observed country in the world – one camera per 32 people, if you believe the Daily Fail. That’s 1.85 million little eyes immortalising your every move for ever.

5) Your doctor All the really gross ailments you have ever been afflicted with, kept forever in a dusty file of shame at your local surgery.

6) Credit cards, store cards, your mobile phone provider, your bank, the DVLA…the list is endless.

What do you think? If you agree with my theory, leave a comment! If you disagree, at least be glad that I’ve made it this far without making a single reference to ‘1984’.

  • Fleur

    I wish they’d at least have the decency to gather information about me by rummaging through my bins. Tesco can’t even be bothered to hack my phone.

  • Felicity

    A good and interesting read – thanks for the clarification! Perhaps we should Amazon to the “Scary Data Collectors” list?