Centre for Internet & Society

Google's plan to merge data across 60 of its properties, which was announced last week, has drawn criticism from experts on the Internet, who are saying that this is detrimental to privacy. Balaji Narasimhan wrote this in the Hindu Business Line. The article was published on 31 January 2012.

"Google is doing what is good for shareholders. This is not positive for netizens,” said Mr Sunil Abraham, Executive Director, Centre for Internet and Society. “People like you and me have to either accept it or leave."

But what are the alternatives? Mr Somick Goswami, Director Consulting, PwC India, didn't want to comment directly on Google, but in the larger context of data privacy, he asked, "Do users want a free Internet or control over content? There is a lot of advocacy going around it. End of the day, when using the Internet, there has to be trust."

One way that Google could build trust could be by using something pertaining to loyalty, which retailers use in the real world in order to woo customers.

Mr Ram Menon, Executive Vice-President and Chief Technology Officer of Tibco, said that many of his clients make offers that are in context with what users want.

"For example, if you like cappuccino and this knowledge is known to a vendor, he can offer you a cappuccino when you walk past the store." He said that in such cases, there was no affront to privacy because the offer is relevant and in context. "You are a member and have opted in," he said.

Perhaps, the fact that all of Google's services are free has something to do with the privacy issue, pointed out the Australian Privacy Foundation. As its site privacy.org.au noted, "The company's business model is based on advertising revenue. Users pay no fees for their use of the services."

And the merger of its 60 policies apart, there is another issue worrying users — new acquisitions. As Mr Abraham pointed out, “When I was browsing Silk Smitha before YouTube was acquired by Google, I had no idea that one day this information would be known to Google."

And the issue becomes more serious in the context of a growing mobile workforce. As the Australian Privacy Foundation said, "Android mobile phones effectively trap users into having a Google user account."

Using Google services on a mobile – especially Google Latitude, a service that allows you to enable your friends to view your current location – allows Google to track your movements.

And since Google is predominantly an advertising-driven company, it could be argued that one day they might share information about you with a third party, enabling them to market to you more effectively, though this may not necessarily be done with your explicit permission – and this means that you may get an offer for products even if you have not opted in for such a service.

What can be done? Mr Abraham rued the fact that there are no specific laws to safeguard users.

"India needs privacy laws. In the US, law makers will create a fuss. In India, we are at the mercy of companies."

The original was published in the Hindu Business Line. Sunil Abraham is quoted in this article.