Google and you: search giant moves to consolidate privacy

25 Jan 2012

Every time an internet giant makes privacy changes there tends to be an alarmist reaction. Make this Google or Facebook and add a dab of privacy controversy, well, you may as well be mixing explosives. In Google’s case, its latest privacy policy is necessary, inevitable and pragmatic.

You see, even Google itself admits being shocked that across its various products – from Gmail and YouTube to Blogger, Calendar and Apps, there are more than 70 different privacy documents that have to be agreed between it and billions of users.

From 1 March, Google is rolling out a new main privacy policy that covers the majority of its products, how it collects information and how it uses that information.

One policy to rule them all

Some 60 of the 70 documents will be consolidated in to one document.

The search giant says that having so many documents is at odds with its objective of creating a “beautifully simple, intuitive user experience,” and adds it is also in response to various regulators’ calls for shorter, simple policies.

There is a sense of inevitability about this. In the past year, since Larry Page took the helm at Google, you can’t help but get a sense of Google’s ambition to simplify itself and create sharper, more precise products.

It’s very reminiscent of what Steve Jobs did when he returned to Apple in 1997, reducing core products down to a handful.

Page has already jettisoned a lot of products but what I think he’s up to now is more subtle and clever.

Google has a lot of products that have a lot of uses, getting rid of the majority actually does not make sense.

Instead, what’s really going on here is the creation of a commonality of experience across all Google’s products.

Ever since Google+ arrived a few months ago – and which is now at 90m users and growing – a single, grey dashboard began to appear at the top of the browser window across products like Gmail, iGoogle, News, Maps, etc, that link you to your Google+ profile.

Across all these experiences, Google wants to be synonymous.

But this strategy won’t be without its problems and you have to wonder if Google has overreached itself by putting Google+ to the fore of web searches on the Google platform to the disadvantage of other social platforms.

Google is a business and it is trying to get the most value out of what it has created, but it also has a responsibility when you think that for a lot of people – and this sounds rash, but it’s true – Google is the web. That’s where it starts, and Google is the gel. But also Google does not own the internet and the creation of a ‘Don’t Be Evil’ bookmarklet for creating a fairer, socialised search by engineers from Facebook, Twitter and MySpace should serve as a reminder of its important role in the internet universe, at least before the antitrust lawyers come knocking.

But back to the privacy changes. Google is right, there is a lot more that it can do to help you by sharing across all the products – why shouldn’t your calendar be linked with Maps, Google+ experiences, etc.

Every technology company reaches this point – this is exactly what Microsoft is doing with Outlook, SharePoint, Exchange, Lync, Office 365, etc – when products integrate neatly and seamlessly across the board.

The privacy policy changes are part of an overall integration strategy at Google that should be all the better for ardent users of its products.

And in a world where privacy policy changes can be explosive, Google, with its vast advertising and content delivery empire and a fast-growing social network needs to strive for transparency to maintain the most important thing you need on the internet – trust.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years