On January 24, 2012, Google made an official announcement concerning a change to the way the company will administer their privacy policies. The basic gist of the blog post outlining the change is that instead of many policies spread out over all of the various Google services, there will be a simpler, unified privacy policy.

While the concept of a single privacy policy sounds mostly harmless to me, the news drew the ire of many and prompted some to renew the seemingly perpetual notion that Google has turned to the dark side and embraced “evil.”

To paraphrase a famous ring of power, Google had issued:
One Policy to rule them all,

One Policy to find them,

One Policy to bring them all

and in the darkness bind them.

It’s a private matter

Now, I freely admit that I don’t read privacy policies as a general rule, not because I think privacy is unimportant, but because they are tedious exercises in overwrought legalese.

I have come to terms with the fact that there is no privacy on the Internet and that the “privacy policies” merely serve to codify that fact. As soon as you connect a device to the Internet, every keystroke is tracked, cataloged, and positioned to target you with “appropriate” advertising. In this case, appropriate is from the perspective of the advertiser.

In many minds, this is a terrible thing and constitutes an invasion of privacy that can only be adequately described as evil. A post on the Gizmodo website explains their reasons for declaring Google evil in this way:

“Because Google changed the rules that it defined itself. Google built its reputation, and its multi-billion dollar business, on the promise of its “don’t be evil” philosophy. That’s been largely interpreted as meaning that Google will always put its users first, an interpretation that Google has cultivated and encouraged…

…This [policy change] crosses that line. It eliminates that fine-grained control, and means that things you could do in relative anonymity today, will be explicitly associated with your name, your face, your phone number come March 1st.”

I will argue that, despite what Gizmodo and others may have perceived as standard operating procedure, Google has always served and will continue to always serve, their real clients – advertisers. Google users are data points, nothing more, nothing less. The fact that users could get a good search out of Google is just the bait used to get us into a position to relate our personal data. The sharing of data across all of Google’s multitude of services has been happening all along, the company is just acknowledging that fact in a single, “you can’t say we didn’t tell you” policy.

This does not mean that Google and Google Apps are not useful; it just means using them has a cost. If that cost is more than you are willing to pay, then you can choose not to participate. But I would not base your decision on something as impractical and immeasurable as whether Google is somehow evil.

Has Google’s move to consolidate all of the various privacy policies into one simplified policy changed your mind about the company’s motives? Has it made you reconsider the pros and cons of using Google Apps, Google+, Google Search, or any of the other Google services? What exactly concerns you about Google sharing your information across its various services?

Here is Google’s video explanation of the new privacy policies consolidation:

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