Google’s new policy rekindles privacy debate
By Kang Ye-won
For instance, it can alert users when they’re late for a meeting based on their location, calendar and local traffic condition. The new policy does not apply to Chrome and Google Wallet.
“We’re not just keeping your private stuff private but making it more useful to you in your daily life, too,” says a Google’s official YouTube posting about the new policy.
But the media fretted over the online giant to becoming like Big Brother and the U.S. and European regulators warned that the new policy violates their data protection laws.
Korea Communications Commission (KCC), too, officially stated last week that Google violated the nation’s online privacy rule, which requires users’ consent before giving their personal information and to provide certain information in specific terms including how the company uses data, how long the data is stored, how users can erase it, and the contact information in case they want to file complaints of privacy breach.
Google has been collecting data through its 70-something services by picking up cookies, server log information and location data, and some experts say that with the new policy, technically users will notice no difference.
The way the search titan will handle the data is no more radical than how they have gathered them before, but it’s a matter of how the users perceive it, said Kim Jae-yeon, an author of “Being Social Web.”
“What Google is missing every time (it faces a backlash) is that it’s not about what’s really changed but what the users think is changed,” Kim said.
Back in 2010, Google’s first social networking tool, Google Buzz backfired when it automatically set up the list of followers based on the users’ records from their Gmail and Gchat and made it public by default. The search giant shut down the service and settled with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to submit to regular audits for the next 20 years.
“Asking for a complete privacy right in the era of ubiquitous online services, which constantly push for openness and sharing data, is like asking a driver to slow down to 10 kph in the 60 kph zone,” Kim said.
In fact, some users welcome the Google’s effort to provide more tailored services based on the collated data.
“It's economics, they provide cool services for free, they have to pay for it somehow, … , if they have to sell a few advertisements, so be it,” Lumsden said.
“In the era of ubiquitous and big data, it is inevitable for online users to release their basic personal information,” said Kang Hak-ju, manager at eStory Lab, a social media strategy firm. “It’s important for users to be mindful about the service they use and they give information about themselves in return,” Kang said.
For instance, many people have signed up for Kakao Talk, a smartphone messenger app, to take advantage of its free texting service, but not a lot of them are aware of the condition which they allow the service provider to have a full access to their phone book. And when the company comes up with a possible list of friends based on the given data, people jitter, he said.
“More privacy glitches will come down the road, so it’s up to individual user who should give more thoughts to a meaning of privacy and form their own ethical guidelines,” Kang said.
In response to the trend, scholars have debated about the meaning of privacy in the 21st century.
“Making something that is public more public is a violation of privacy,” said danah boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research and social media scholar, when speaking at the South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival (SXSW) in 2010.
“What’s at stake here is often not about whether or not something is public or private, but how public or private it is.”
Experts say Google is not the first one who has aggregated personal data. Korean conglomerates including Samsung Group, CJ Group, and KT have done what’s called a single sign-on or SSO, which is to unify private log-in information across their services, to make it easier to manage data and save costs as well.
And critics argue that the Korean government has brought a double standard to foreign and national companies when it comes to protecting online privacy.
“I personally don’t understand why the KCC (Korea Communications Commission) probes only Google on the privacy breach matter while leaving out other Korean companies who’ve taken similar actions,” Kang said. And the government pressed its stringent Internet policies at the expense of the users’ convenience.
For instance, the government’s push for a ‘real name’ policy on YouTube back in 2009 was not done to protect the users’ rights, but rather to exert its authority over a global titan, he said.
In consequence, YouTube restricted its video upload and comment function in Korea in order to avoid the user identification requirement.
At the same time, people agreed that Internet giants such as Google and Facebook have consistently pushed a step at a time with privacy setting to get users numbed to it.
“Google’s defense claiming that it gave users options to control their privacy is not convincing enough, because most users don’t follow the privacy setting up to date and feel no obligation to do so for the matter of convenience and cost,” said Kim, the author of “Being Social Web.”