Thursday, January 26, 2012

Could Google's data hoarding be good for you?

BBC News Magazine
January 26, 2012

Google's announcement that is now tracking users' web movements has upset privacy advocates. But consider what you get in return for the information.

With the news that Google is to merge data collected from its many platforms - including YouTube, Gmail and Blogger - privacy advocates say the company will have more information than it should. Even before this change, web users had too little control over their online information, they say.

"Your data is out there," says Jeff Blevins, an associate professor of communications law and policy at Iowa State University.

"It's really blind to us. We don't know what information they have and how they're using it, and we have no right to access it."

Web companies use browsing behaviour to paint consumers into boxes, making assumptions about their identities and targeting ads at them. Sometimes users can opt out. But often they are tracked without even knowing it.

Risk and reward

But one economist says concerns about privacy are misguided - and that having more online is better than having less.

Users are richly compensated for their personal information, says Paul Rubin, a professor of economics at Emory University in Atlanta. In exchange for it, he says, they receive a free and useful internet.

"It makes the internet work much better, in many dimensions.

"If you and I search on the same topic, we may have different interests, if the results are tailored to me and tailored to you, that's a better experience."

When the data is used to sell ads, the ads we get are tailored to things we might like, and the profits can work in our favour.

"Sure, Google makes some money, but they use that money to give away all kinds of stuff, like Gmail," says Mr Rubin.

"My life is on Google," he says, referring to the calendars, documents and other services Google provides. "It needs to be funded somehow."


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