In the past few weeks Facebook has been publicly criticized over privacy policies; however, when Google invades people’s privacy, the offenses don’t receive the same level of scrutiny or public outrage.
Unless you had all of your attention focused on the Lost season finale, it’s been impossible to not know about the problems Facebook has been having with privacy . It had gotten so bad that people created infographics showing the erosion of privacy over time and the byzantine settings to control your privacy. This caused some high profile people like Jason Calacanis and Leo Laporte to delete their facebook profiles as a form of public protest. However, when Google is guilty of similar violations, those people (and the community as a whole) remain mute on the issue.
In recent weeks Google has been caught uncharacteristically with their pants down on more than one occasion. First they admitted they “accidentally” downloaded personal information. More recently, they were “forced” to admit they were geographically mapping all open wifi networks as part of the European street map program. I don’t know about you, but I think these are some pretty serious offenses.
But are Jason Calacanis and Leo Laporte deleting their Google profiles or calling for any form of protest against Google?
So why does Google get to “slide by” while Facebook gets sacrificed on the altar? First off, Google has done an excellent job of perpetuating the “garage company startup” despite being a huge business and financial juggernaut. Don’t think for a second that the playful colors, funny logos, bean bag chairs, and lava lamps are by accident. It’s all intended to create that sense of being “googly.”
The second part is that Google creates a lot of good will by giving things away for free. It doesn’t matter that, by giving things for free, they destroy other businesses. It’s almost as if people believe that, as long as long you get it for free, it’s all good. But free is a funny thing, and it motivates people in funny ways. People have been known to give away a lot of personal information to get things for free. That tendency is something that a lot of startups depend on.
If the community isn’t going to protest, then it’s up to the government to step in. While the DOJ may want to go after Google, right now it’s not happening. Call me a crazy conspiracy theorist , but the spooks in the spy agencies have convinced the government that spying on its citizens is a good thing, and they might as well let someone else get their hands dirty doing it. And this isn’t a red state blue state debate: both Bush and Obama have extended the Patriot Act.
So what’s the next step? We each have to take a stand and educate our circle of friends and contacts about the clear and present danger that all of these companies put on our personal freedoms. Facebook, Google, or some other company–it doesn’t matter where the threat comes from. What’s important is that we see it for what it is and act accordingly. As Ben Franklin says “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.”