When surfing, there are precious few people who, like me, de-Googled their lives. There’s the odd blog post here and there, but, overall, those of us who took the plunge are few and far between. It still puzzles me, given the regular privacy problems that I find on Google Dashboard (Google supporters will argue that at least they have a dashboard—Facebook doesn’t).
But it appears various states’ attorneys-general (or ‘attorney-generals’ according to USA Today) in the US are concerned about Google’s privacy breaches, too. Two years ago, I uncovered how Google’s lied about its opt-out procedure: Google may well have tracked people, who believe they had opted out from its Ads Preferences Manager, for years. More recently, it was busted, by the Murdoch Press, for tracking people using Apple’s Safari browser. (The day they were busted, they stopped doing it.)
The Ohio Attorney-General’s office summed up the case:
Google generates revenue primarily through advertising. Through its DoubleClick advertising platform it sets third-party cookies — small files in consumers’ Web browsers — that enable third-party advertisers to gather information about those consumers, including their Web surfing habits.
By default, Apple’s Safari Web browser is set to block third-party cookies, but from June 1, 2011 to February 15, 2012, Google circumvented Safari’s default privacy settings and set third-party cookies on Safari Web browsers. Google disabled the circumvention method in February 2012 after the practice was widely reported on the Internet and in the media.
The attorneys general allege that Google’s circumvention of the default privacy settings violated state consumer protection laws and related computer privacy laws. The states claim that Google failed to inform Safari users that it was circumventing their privacy settings and gave them the false impression that their default privacy settings would block third-party cookies. In turn, users’ Web surfing habits could be tracked without the users’ knowledge.
My blogging about something and going to the Network Advertising Initiative is nothing compared to when the US media gets hold of it. Maybe I could have gone to the US media at the time, but chose not to. I still believe it shows a pattern here about Google’s corporate culture, and that the company will do anything when it comes to its profitable, multi-milliard-dollar advertising business.
However, the pay-out, of US$17 million, is around four hours’ worth of Google Adwords’ earnings. So really, we’re not talking about a huge amount here. Maybe Apple Safari users just aren’t worth that much?
On that note, I’m wondering whether we should wind down our Feedburner subscriptions in favour of the default one on Wordpress. It’s much uglier, but it’s not Google. As Google still refuses to resolve the problem about holding on to my old blog data without my permission, the only recourse may be to kill my entire Google account. I’ve now removed my membership of one Analytics account (it only took Google a few years to get that sorted—but less than the four years it took to get my confidential information off Adsense), and there are a few other work things still tied to it, including the Lucire Google Plus page.
On a similar note, I see some people are upset this month about being forced to get a Google Plus account just to comment on YouTube, including YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim (though probably not upset enough to de-Google in most cases). My advice: you really won’t miss commenting on YouTube, since I refused to link my basic Google account with my YouTube several years ago. Get a blog and write your own entry if you want to comment publicly, or write a Tweet or Facebook status update with the YouTube video link, and get things off your chest that way. It’s worked for me and I don’t have to engage some of the daft things that appear among YouTube comments.
As to the YouTube commenting petition, I have a feeling Google won’t care, unless you’re prepared to fight them for years, which is what I had to do to get some basic private data off their systems.