Google has become as integral a part of everybody’s life like air and water are. Many people cannot live without the Internet and Internet does not make much sense for many without Google. Thus, it is no surprise that anything or everything that Google does, makes news.
It would only be fair to share what Google has to say on the issue. It says that by getting access to personal information and preferences of a user, it can provide better search results. Whatever happened to better keywords for achieving the same objective? Next, comes an oft repeated rationale of remembering a user’s language preferences. Such a mundane task does not require access to all the information about a user. Google can ask its users if they want Google to remember their language preferences like the way it is done for remembering passwords. The same argument is also given for providing customized ads to users based on their online usage patterns. This again can be done by giving the users an option to set their ad preferences at the time of registering. The most bizarre argument by Google is that the information collected by it, would enable it to help users find more about people who matter to them the most online. Well, would it not be better if the users decide for themselves who matters to them the most instead of a pre-determined algorithm? After all, human emotions and relationships are too complex and ever-changing.
All the above-mentioned concerns should not and cannot take away the sheen from the multitude of benefits that Google brings to its users. It is a commercial organisation, no matter what its representatives say. It is and ought to be governed by commercial concerns. It has to make money to stay afloat and to be able to provide its users with even better services. It does have strict guidelines and policies for sharing users’ personal information with its employees. It does not associate any cookie or anonymous identifier with sensitive categories like race, religion, sexual orientation or health. It does give its users the option to monitor what information can be used by Google and how through tools like Google Dashboard. It provides an option for an opt-in consent for sharing any ‘sensitive’ personal information with other companies.
So, is there nothing that a user can do? The whole purpose of this debate is not to scare away users but to forewarn them, to tell them to use the Internet smartly. Here are some strategies. Do not search using Google while being logged in to any of Google’s accounts. Create a Google account with an anonymous name for activities that you would not like to be associated with your name. Create multiple accounts with different names for different activities. For the ones with deep pockets, use multiple devices for different activities so that it becomes all the more difficult for Google to aggregate all the information about one person. As tedious as these activities may seem, they are equally not fool-proof. So, what’s the next best option? Google it to find out!
(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer.)