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1/24/2011: The Day Google became MicroFlix

Wait, what’s this? I’ve woken from my blog stupor? Was I having a good dream? Hard to say, but I know that the first thing I read this morning didn’t make me feel good: Google’s new ‘privacy’ policy.

So, tech companies change their privacy policies all the time — no big deal. But this time? When Google announced that it’s integrating its data on users across virtually all of their services, whether you like it or not, across any device? They’ve gone too far for me. This time, I’m actually doing something about it. So what’s the problem? Well, Google claims it is supportive of data freedom — but their offer to people who might not want every search they make, from every location, associated with their phone number & social network profile is pretty ugly: take it all, or leave it. Either use all of Google, or nothing.

Basically, this reminds me of two ugly tech management episodes of recent history:

  1. Microsoft’s decision to force Internet Explorer on the public by virtue of its monopoly in operating system.
  2. Netflix’s decision to abruptly tell consumers what their service should be & would be — regardless of how consumers felt about Netflix.

What are the parallels?  To me, Google’s new policy sounds like a monopolist exercising unfair market power — just like Microsoft in the browser wars. Like Netflix, this policy is completely declarative: we know what’s best for you, the consumer, and you’re gonna love it. So take it & shut up.

Really? Well, no matter how many billions Larry & Sergey have, how many happy Googlers ride their wifi buses from SF to Mountain View, or what the share price is: I, the consumer, get to decide whether my privacy is worth a spell check that knows how to correct my friends’ names. Wait…I like my privacy more.

If Google really cared about ‘privacy’, then it would let me, the consumer, make my choices about how data about me is aggregated (even if I can’t really control how that data is sold or used down the line). They’d let me do this by having a panel that allowed/disallowed data across products and devices. Most people wouldn’t do anything with that control, but I would. Instead? They try to cram a policy that is clearly very lucrative for them (the holy grail of market research: your life in a database) down my throat — and call it a spoonful of sugar. Give. Me. A. Break.

Do I think Google is evil & wants to violate my privacy? Not really — but I think the company is making an arrogant miscalculation: that it knows what’s best for me better than I do. And that’s just wrong.

So, guess what? Google has this achilles heal: something like 90% of its revenue comes from search ads. And guess what? Those ads are especially lucrative on mobile devices.

I love many Google services — which is why leaving entirely isn’t really an option. But you know what I can do?

Disable Google Search on my iPhone. Settings/Safari/Search Engine: Bing. Bing is now my search option in Firefox too: all you have to do is click the little icon next to the search window & select a new provider. Bye-bye! Bing is a totally viable alternative for knowing whether or not Drive got any Oscar nominations — I lost no utility, Google loses a key piece of info, Google loses its cash cow.

That’s my message here — and I wonder if other users will react similarly. Netflix felt the backlash that happens at warp speed these days last summer, will Google? My sense is they should — declarative and creepy policies like this shoul make people feel uncomfortable, and this should lead to pushback. And one wonders, when does this gorilla-in-the-segment behavior attract real antitrust attention?

Alright — gotta go teach 160 folks about mass media. (Wonder what I’ll say about Google today…)



There are 3 Comments to "1/24/2011: The Day Google became MicroFlix"

  • lex says:

    I heard the same news this morning and was really surprised that Google wasn’t already doing this. In the late 90’s Google figured out how to leverage innumerable scraps of information on the web to make search find what you want, yet apparently in 2012 they still have giant silos of data about you and your preferences within their different businesses and they haven’t bothered to link them up. Seems crazy.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is great for their consumers (me), but it is good for their customers (advertisers), and they have to strike a balance between these two. Fundamentally, I think this is going to be their struggle (and facebook’s too), wringing every last penny out of knowing my preferences, without leaving me feeling completely exposed.

    • lks says:


      I get your point & I’ve generally kind of soft-pedaled the big privacy freak outs over Google. But…this kind of seemed like the straw that broke the camel’s back to me. Yes, Google’s claimed the rights to collect/aggregate information for a while. But, especially with the growth of + and mobile devices/tracking, they can aggregate insane & creepy information: where were you, when, how long, and with whom. What were you doing? Did you search for anything? ETC.

      To say that my only option is to opt out 100% or opt in 100% is disappointing. Why not simply provide a panel that lists the various products & then allows me to simply opt-in or opt-out? It seems to me that Google has made plenty of money without being this …invasive. And that most people are apathetic/tech un-savvy. So, realistically, how much would it cost to allow the consumer to have some rights here? Why is that so impossible for Google (and FB, etc.) to do?

      So, the recent announcement or clarification, or whatever, just feels draconian & bullying.

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