from the don't-hide-this-shit dept
This was our thinking in designing a Privacy Bill of Rights for companies to abide by in designing their services (along with EFF and Namecheap).
The practical result of the change is that the DoubleClick ads that follow people around on the web may now be customized to them based on the keywords they used in their Gmail. It also means that Google could now, if it wished to, build a complete portrait of a user by name, based on everything they write in email, every website they visit and the searches they conduct.Here's the thing: a lot of privacy advocates I know will likely say that this move is de facto "bad." And that any linkage between identity and ads is bad. But I'd argue that the real problem here is Google's unwillingness to be clear and transparent. It slipped this change in and then made up some PR-speak about why it was doing it, in a way that wasn't at all clear to basically anyone:
The move is a sea change for Google and a further blow to the online ad industry’s longstanding contention that web tracking is mostly anonymous. In recent years, Facebook, offline data brokers and others have increasingly sought to combine their troves of web tracking data with people’s real names. But until this summer, Google held the line.
“We updated our ads system, and the associated user controls, to match the way people use Google today: across many different devices,” Faville wrote. She added that the change “is 100% optional–if users do not opt-in to these changes, their Google experience will remain unchanged.” (Read Google’s entire statement.)
Existing Google users were prompted to opt-into the new tracking this summer through a request with titles such as “Some new features for your Google account.”
The “new features” received little scrutiny at the time. Wired wrote that it “gives you more granular control over how ads work across devices.” In a personal tech column, the New York Times also described the change as “new controls for the types of advertisements you see around the web.”
Thankfully, Google does provide the other prong of our test: giving users control.
To opt-out of Google’s identified tracking, visit the Activity controls on Google’s My Account page, and uncheck the box next to “Include Chrome browsing history and activity from websites and apps that use Google services." You can also delete past activity from your account.But it would have been a lot better if the company could have just been upfront and honest about it. This is why transparency and clarity about intentions are so important. If companies don't do that, then people will (rightly) assume that the moves are designed in a manner to be anti-consumer. If Google truly believes it's providing a better product with such changes, explain why and how and let users decide for themselves.