Online and privacy, two words that go together like cheese and cake. The alliance is unholy, but it works, just about.
The biggest problem with online privacy (and cheesecake) is that they’re two concepts that are forced together like an awkwardly overcrowded elevator ride. You almost feel that the very act of being online is to throw caution, and indeed your privacy rights, to the wind as you run the gauntlet of having your browsing history open to all and of course the daily threat of hackers.
But of course, we do value our privacy, now more than ever. If you read one thing in the news this week it will probably be another politician, another celebrity caught doing something decidedly seedy. Maybe they were exposed because someone spilled the beans, maybe they got caught because an aide leaked confidential documents – maybe they were found out because their online history was shared far and wide.
For those of us who don’t worry about a public naming and shaming there are still other risk factors we face that demand privacy remains top of the agenda for sites such as Google. Indeed, most recently, Google stepped up its anti-tracking tools in a bid to help people avoid having their data
It did this by introducing concepts such as incognito mode to apps such as Google Maps, allowing browsers to find their nearest kebab shop without having location tracked or searches recorded. In fact, this is already how Chrome and YouTube work so we’re not talking about reinventing the wheel here. Nevertheless, for most of us everyday kind of people, this move is welcome and came alongside giving users the option to block third-party cookies.
Location, Location, Location
If you are a Google Android phone user, you’ll also be the first to benefit from some other changes here too. For example, you’ll be alerted when your Apps are using your location data and have the power to restrict their access to that data. But hold on a minute, haven’t you seen this specific issue
Indeed you have. In August last year, the Press Association (PA) published a story on its site that claimed Google was using your location data, like it or not. The issue was complicated, involved and it appeared at least that while Google did give users the option of turning off location fields in its
Apps, actually trying to achieve that was harder than it looked and came with dire, if not rather
So, flash forward a year why has Google decided to roll out these changes now? Well, according to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, the reason is driven by us, the user and our expectations. For most of us this seems…reasonable. After all, we’re not naïve to how giants like Google and Facebook use our data. We know because we get ads that are targeted at us and because we know that’s it no coincidence that a Googled term pops up in the form of an ad on various platforms throughout the day.
What some observers took to task with was the term “constantly evolving user expectations” when it comes to privacy. Is it really? Constantly evolving, we mean. Isn’t it instead rather static and boringly simplistic? We don’t want our data mined, sold on and used to target us. Seems rather unevolved.
Some critics had other concerns describing the move as something like lip service to customers
without any real, tangible benefits.
Big Fish, Little Fish
For those in the tech business, this move has perhaps more interesting ramifications on those smaller companies who rely on advertising and using third-party cookies on websites. While we might argue that an increase in privacy choices is great for the consumer, it’s apparent that Google does well out of this too. In fact, the only participant who doesn’t fare well are these smaller companies. But maybe that’s just a consequence of an over-reliance on the use of personal data and this is, in fact, a step in the right direction for consumers. Either that or a cynical move by Google to manoeuvre its colossal weight against the competition and squash it flat. Who knows eh?
In the age of GDPR and for consumers who continue to have grave concerns about who has access to their personal data and how it gets used, even a token gesture is welcome. The big question is will we make the most of it? While the vocal majority will, there is a significant portion of society who simply couldn’t care less how and where their data gets used. Across Europe the rate of ad-blocking has slowed and techsperts will look on with interest to see if Google’s rollout will affect these numbers.
In the meantime, we’ll continue to be amazed and appalled as that Googled holiday destination appears online as a booking site and worry that our most private and embarrassing search terms are just a pop-up ad away from exposing our darkest secrets.