The changes are fairly minor. Yet, there’s been a furor surrounding the new policy. Why? Google is trying to be more forthright and explicit about what information it gathers, what information it stores, and what information it shares. Many people, myself included, have been semi-comfortable enjoying convenient tools and more targeted advertising even though we know that every move we make online is logged and analyzed by Google’s automated systems and then that information is aggregated and used to ensure that advertisers’ ads will turn up in front of people who are looking for their products and services (or to people who will be receptive to those offers).
I believe that what has made me much more uncomfortable about this quid pro quo over the past year is my reluctant awareness that, in the U.S. at least, the Patriot Act and other government programs that are ostensibly designed to protect us are empowering the U.S. government to demand warrantless access to the logs of our online behavior. Who has the most complete picture of what we do and care about? Google. What does Google do with that information? It keeps the logs linked to our profiles for 18 months before it severs the connection to our identity and makes the information non-attributable to a particular person. And, when a government agency makes a “legal request,” Google complies by handing over the logs of what it knows about our online activities for the last 18 months. While I am not a terrorist nor a pedophile, I don’t know what behavior of mine could trigger a sudden interest on the part of Big Brother.