“For example, today we make it easy for a signed-in user to immediately add an appointment to her Calendar when a message in Gmail looks like it’s about a meeting. As a signed-in user she can also read a Google Docs document right in her Gmail, rather than having to leave Gmail to read the document. Our ability to share information for one account across services also allows signed-in users to use Google+’s sharing feature – called “circles” – to send directions to family and friends without leaving Google Maps.”
Another projected result is that Google will have a more comprehensive view of your online activity, which it can use to target ads to you. Many find this disturbing. First techies, then journalists, then politicians started clamoring about how the new policy presents a threat to users’ privacy and violates the trust users had placed in Google. Even Microsoft jumped on the bandwagon, with a new ad casting doubt on the purity of Google’s intentions and pointing to its own services as a privacy-friendly alternative.
Google responded to these concerns in several blog posts and in a letter to a group of congressmen who had made inquiries. Google made several excellent points in this letter, including:
- Google isn’t collecting any new information about you or publicizing any of your information.
- Under the old privacy policies, most Google services already shared information with each other.
- Google has made every effort to be transparent and communicate this change openly.
- The change will lead to a seamless experience for users of Google products.
This last point is important because it’s the primary reason for the policy change. Google says, “We’ll treat that user as a single entity across all our services, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.” This is something that most businesses work hard to achieve, and it’s something we usually recommend to our clients. The fewer roadblocks a customer faces, the better. Consider how many frustrating customer experiences you’ve had because the different parts of a business didn’t treat you as a single entity or have a comprehensive view of your relationship with them.
Many skeptics and critics argue that advertisers are the real beneficiaries of this change because they will be able to target their ads more precisely to potential customers. This is true, but that’s always the bargain with Google. We let Google show us ads, and in return, it provides us with great web and email services – for free. The only difference is that now we may see more ads that actually interest us.
Maybe in a perfect world, where users were more curious than suspicious, I’d say Google took the correct approach by putting the privacy implications front and center. But in this world, the framing of your message matters as much as the content of your message. Google didn’t frame this right, and it only exacerbated the backlash it was sure to encounter.
I think Google is still keeping true to its “Don’t be evil” mantra. It provided simple tools like Google Dashboard, where you can see (and edit or delete) the information it has about you. And you are perfectly free to use almost any of its services without logging in. That’s a lot more than most companies do to protect your privacy, and it’s certainly more than one of its largest competitors, Facebook, is doing. So let’s give Google credit for simplifying the experiences it offers and its documents. Let’s also learn a lesson from the company about how better to communicate sensitive changes.