Advertising: Deliberate encroachment on the right to privacy?

Analysis and user profiling is not a new concept within consumer advertising, but the major search engine companies have upped the ante so that this practice now presents a very different and far more serious threat toward consumer privacy than ever before.

The launch of Google’s Chrome has brought the question of privacy into sharper focus. Use of the Chrome browser is only permissible under a set of license terms that provides Google with sweeping rights to the user’s content. Depending on interpretation, it might mean that even published content now somehow belongs to Google. In reaction to this, Google has made a statement saying that this is “not what they intended” and that they plan to rework the license agreement.

Sorry, but I don’t buy it.

Also, if Chrome was an exception, why does the language in the Google Docs agreement claim similar rights to that in Chrome?

“By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.”

“You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.”

What I’m concerned about is that the deliberate encroachment on the right to privacy driven by Google and others is a byproduct of Google’s business model, which is primarily the aggregation of the world’s content, serving users with easy access and paid for via an advertising model targeting advertisements based on the content. So far, you can only admire their effectiveness in that mission. The problem is that this is predicated on Google’s and Google third parties’ ability to read your content and track your browsing habits.

With regard to Chrome, this is not about the content you browse per se, but rather your browsing habits. They also offer a top-notch analytics product that provides all the Web site analytics a company could want, and free of charge, too. It’s a hard bargain to pass up. However, tucked into the license is the stipulation on Google’s right to use your traffic data any way they see fit.

I am not advocating closing down these unquestionably useful applications. I am suggesting that these matters are non-trivial and require open debate.

Joe Ruck is CEO of BoardVantage. Reach him at [email protected]

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