We all know that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) keeps tabs on what we search for online. Tracking your search activity is how many of the ads you see on various websites are based (i.e. what other sites you visit and how often you visit them).
It’s also how Google makes most of its money. Consider that of its $10.6 billion in revenue last quarter, $7.3 billion of that – or 69% – came from advertising.
Google uses a similar practice in all of its services. Like recommending YouTube videos based on what you’ve watched before. Or targeting ads in Gmail based on messages you send and receive.
But the information gathered in each Google service remained separate. Meaning Google couldn’t dig into your Gmail account and use that data to alter what you’d see in a search result.
Why Consumers Are Spooked
Here’s how Google describes the change:
In other words, the company is cross-referencing information you enter in all of its sites, like Gmail, YouTube and Google+, to benefit you by delivering targeted search results and advertisements.
Not many people are seeing the benefits, though, considering a poll conducted by The Washington Post found that 65% of its readers would cancel their Google accounts once these changes go into effect.
So what’s the problem?
As The Washington Post puts it, “The new policy might upset people who never expected their information would be shared across so many different websites. A user signing up for Gmail, for instance, might never have imagined that the content of his or her messages could affect the experience on seemingly unrelated websites such as YouTube.”
Then there’s the fact that Google can now associate your name with activity across all of these services. Meaning if you have a different name on certain accounts for some reason, Google can now use your name to ensure that “you are represented consistently across all our services.”
That’s a nice way of saying that it’s controlling your online identity.
As Gizmodo points out, it “means that things you could do in relative anonymity today, will be explicitly associated with your name, your face, your phone number… A real concern for various privacy concerns would recognize that I might not want Google associating two pieces of personal information.”
And perhaps the worst part is, if you want to continue using Google’s services, you can’t opt out of this new policy. So it’s understandable that people are uneasy with the change.
But is this something you should be losing sleep over?
In short, I’m not really concerned with Google’s new policy. And you shouldn’t be, either.
For one, isn’t it a bit egotistical to believe that Google cares if your Gmail account is associated with a bunch of hilarious cat videos?
Plus, it’s a sad fact that online ads aren’t going anywhere. In fact, the situation is only going to escalate.
So wouldn’t you rather see ads that are interesting to you? Even if you never actually click on an advertisement, at least you can feel like your browser is customized to your personality.
However, with that said, Business Insider’s Matt Rosoff raises a good point: “In tech, you don’t lose because you make competitors angry. You lose when you make your customers angry.”
And with 65% of readers in the survey mentioned above ready to give their Google services the boot, the search giant better do some damage control before this gets out of hand.
Just giving its users the ability to opt out would be a huge start.
In the meantime, if you’re still convinced that Google’s gearing up to spy on your every move, simply set up your browser to automatically delete cookies each time you exit. If you do so before March 1, you should be safely uninvolved in Google’s sinister plot.