James Losey on Fri, 2 Mar 2012 00:45:18 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> [ICTs-and-Society] Blogpost about Google’s “New“ Terms of Use and Privacy Policy: Old Exploitation and User Commodification in a New Ideological Skin

Hi Christian,

Thank you for sending this blog post. I think providing Google's new
policies within the context of EU regulation is particularly helpful. In a
globally networked world, the multi-jurisdiction that online services face
is both a challenge for companies and an opportunity to push for more user
control over the online public sphere.

However, I would like to push back against a couple notions in your piece.
First, much like television or radio has been supported by advertising, so
too are many online services. The question we are grappling with is not
whether or not the service is supported by advertising but what are
reasonable limits on the use of personally identifiable information for
advertising. Secondly, opt-out is technically an option, but from a
behavioral economics standpoint has much higher costs than most users will
chose. The question is really about what types of controls should be
available for users.

With respect to Google's recent change, you are absolutely correct in
noting the "large-scale economic surveillance" of users, after all, Google
is essentially an advertising company and earns
revenue from advertising, but it is worth defining that transaction.
First, Google profits from serving adds to users and naturally would profit
more from offering more effective advertising. However, Google is also
potentially provides a better product to consumers by tailoring services.
For example, if I am able to use Google search to more quickly access the
information I want then I am more likely to use Google as my primary search
engine. Another example would be location based data from a mobile device
allowing location based services, such as locating me on a map, or to use
Google's example, telling me that I am 15 minutes away from a meeting that
starts in 15 minutes.

In this two-sided market we have two clear values of user data. First, user
data can lead to tailored serves. Secondly, user data can also provide
better tailored advertisements. Both support the service, as one can lead
to more user value while the other provides more value per user to Google.
Essentially, user data is the currency that supports the transaction to
otherwise "free" services online.

Now lets look at Google's new policy. They are simplifying 60 services into
a single privacy policy while at the same time noting that they will be
sharing data between various Google services. This is Google's eclosion -
their transition from a variety of different services that share a log-in,
yet have at times have different data collection, into a single integrated
service. Most notably, this will mean the sharing of data between Google's
web history and YouTube history which is significant because Google is the
largest search engine and the largest video hosting website in the world.
>From my conversations with Google staff, I have confirmed that this step
will not include combining DoubleClick data. (In fact, this would be in
violation of a Federal Trade Commission order here in the U.S.)

>From a business standpoint, this transition makes sense. Two of Google's
major competitors are striving for integrated experiences. Apple offers a
vertically integrated experience on iOS devices and is pushing the same App
store restrictions onto OSX computers through Gatekeeperon the next version
of their operating system. Facebook is pushing to create the next
generation of the online portal - the very same that was rejected in the
90s - by offering applications and media within Facebook. However, by
integrating a "like" button on a large number of websites, Facebook has
also made a major play to collect user data on user web browsing.

Google has responded to this competitive threat through their "+1 "button
(which offers the same web browsing tracking as the "like" button) as well
as the intent to transition into a company that offers an integrated
experience. The commercial pressures of the online marketplace are to
maximize, as you say, "economic surveillance" and Google's new policy is a
clear intent to become underlying platform through which users interact
with other online content.

As I argue<http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2012/02/google_privacy_policy_the_missing_opt_out_isn_t_the_only_problem_.html>with
my colleague Thomas Gideon, the problem here is not whether or not
Google offers an "opt-out." After all, saying users must accept new
policies or choose another service is a bully's pulpit. Even though Google
offers the ability to download all your data and leave (although this is a
commendable step considering the other players in the space) users have
considerable sunk costs in users log-ins for YouTube, email, and other
Google services. Additionally, once you log into a single Google service
you are automatically logged into other services - it is entirely
unreasonable to expect that someone will be chatting or emailing in one
window and log-out in order to view a video. What Google is doing is
"forcibly bridging services without the choice of a partial opt-out is an
attempt by Google to leverage user dependency on some services to increase
the usage of others?most notably Google+." In other words, depending on a
users use of Gmail or YouTube to track *all *web browsing history.  Because
in analog people interact with different spaces in different ways, what
Google should offer is the ability for a user to control their online
identity - ie, the profile created by Google - in different services. User
may decide that they would like to keep separate profiles for web history
vs. YouTube, or they may not. However, the current state of Google privacy
controls is painfully services specific while Google is pushing a policy
for an integrated service. I would argue that tools should offer nuanced
control of user identity within an integrated space.

Moving forward, I think its worth accepting the fact the online model is
predicated on the exchange of user data for services. But there are some
components worth exploring.

One component is to question data collection. This includes regulatory
approaches to limiting the type of data that can be collected by
intermediaries, as well as the length of time this data can be stored for.
Data has a value for users as well as services, after all location data can
aid mobile phone calls while travelling in a car while search data can
allow online services to be tailored to users interests. However, these
data silos can create concerns over the ability to forget past history or
the ability for law enforcement to easily access detailed history without
adequate due process or other limits.

A second component is to explore the transparency of the exchange. To what
extent are consumer aware of the transaction, and the extent that data is
collected. From a regulatory standpoint, some approaches are to clarify
this exchange without providing meaningful opportunities for consumers.
This Joy of Tech
illustrates one approach to consumer "protections" that obviously falls
short. Transparency is obviously necessary but not sufficient.

A third component is the level of controls. In the United States, both
through initiatives of the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) and the W3C
standards setting body, there are discussions of a "Do Not Track"
header. Theoretically, the header would allow a user to send a clear signal
that they would not like to be tracked. While there are technical methods
for circumventing this signal it does provide an opportunity for regulatory
enforcement. Unfortunately, the DAA process which recently got White House
support would only block advertsing tracking *not *web browsing which I
think is disingenuous. Rather, what I would like to see is actually an
implementation of Google Circles for online web tracking. Google Circles is
an interesting approach for social networks -- a clear way to define
different categories of social interaction and what types of data they will
have access to. I think it would valuable for users to have similar
controls for their interactions with different websites or online spaces.

Finally, a forth component is exploring consumer harms to data collection.
In your email you linked to a paper where you detail the political economy
of Google. However, I think it would be worth breaking down where Google's
revenue comes from. Based on this
two-thirds of Google's revenue comes from four sources: Insurance, loans,
mortgage, and attorneys. At least in the United States, these are some
industries that have factions actively take advantage of different
communities. For example, the current recession is largely caused by abuses
in the mortgage industry. It is worth exploring if traditionally
marginalized populations are likewise marginalized through the
personalization of advertisements online. Superficial research
it is indeed the case that racial minorities in the United States are
targeted by different advertisements in the United States but this is
clearly an area that requires more research.

I look forward to exploring these issues further,


On Wed, Feb 29, 2012 at 6:27 PM, Christian Fuchs <christian.fuchs@uti.at>wrote:

> http://fuchs.uti.at/789/
> Google?s ?New? Terms of Use and Privacy Policy: Old Exploitation and
> Commodification in a New Ideological Skin
> On March 1st, 2012, Google changed its terms of use and privacy policy.
> What has changed? Has something changed?

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