When I talk with people who aren’t involved with internet marketing about Google, I’m surprised by the amount of trust they put in Google and how they feel Google is making the world a better place … for truly altruistic reasons. It’s not until I point out how Google will gladly provide all the services “for free” because the data they get in exchange is worth more–a lot more–than it costs them to provide the services which are slowly eroding your privacy, both online and offline that their understanding of Google begins to change.
So why does Google want to build cars that drive you around Jetsons style, like in the video below? They want to track you and have complete access to where you are going every day.
Why does Google care that I go to Pomodorino Italian restaurant in Seaford? So they can sell advertising to me before I go. I hop in my car and type in the address. Before departing, the Google car navigation asks if I would like to go to Piccolo in Bellmore. It’s the same distance, and they have a 3 course, price fixed menu and $5 off coupon. This type of instant groupon style offering has the potential to make a ton of money for Google. Is this good for the user? That depends. Do you value your privacy more than a $5 off coupon? Once Google is in your car, it’s tracking your every move. And just because I don’t have anything to hide doesn’t mean I’m doing anything wrong.
Access to your personal purchasing data is the same reason Google and other vendors are building ewallets. While I used a humorous tone, I actually meant what I said on Twitter: with Google wallet, they are just inches away from crawling completely up your ass. With the potential to create frictionless commerce that could top Amazon Prime for ease of use, if Google can critical mass for adoption, we’re all in trouble. Google could use your data and sell you promotions for everything you buy. But isn’t this helpful to the average consumer? Again, the answer depends on how much value you put on your privacy. While you may not care and actually like that Google gives you offers on tomato sauce or toothpaste, does it change your opinion if Google knows you are buying from swingers websites or adult diaper stores and selling that data to advertisers … any advertiser.
As some will point out, after reading the Google Wallet FAQ, Google doesn’t have direct access to what products you buy, which I believe to be true. However, even if they don’t know exactly what you’re buying from CVS or Rite Aid–heck they don’t even know what you are buying from Adam & Eve (NSFW) and EdenFantasies.com (NSFW)–they can figure out what you spend on average every month: $322 on restaurants, $243 on clothing, and $562 on adult websites. Is that the kind of information you want Google to have on you, to sell to advertisers, to use to profile or retarget ads to you, or to match up with your browsing history and advertising profile?
Some people will question whether your bank or financial institutions like American Express already have access to this data … the answer is that yes they do. However, those industries are severely regulated with what they can or can’t do with that data. Google, on the other hand, is going where no one has gone before, isn’t subject to those same rules, and no one is big enough to stand up and tell them “no.” Are you willing to trust that kind of data to a company who says patents and IP laws are anti-competitive, cost them money, and just “get in the way”? I hope not.
So what can you do? Opt out of Google ad profiling and, every few months, check that you stay “opted out.” When Google releases a new product, ask yourself how does it help them make money or better target advertising at you. Understand and educate your friends and family: these free services aren’t really free. When you don’t pay for something, you are the product being sold.