Google has a significant amount of information that people choose to give it—in the form of searches, email, photos and videos and a variety of other information–but in the past Google dealt with each of its products individually both in terms of how the products functioned, as well as how Google told consumers what it did with information. What Google really has done is consolidate its policies, and how information is used with consumer choice, so users can choose to have an enhanced Web experience.
To put Google’s recent changes in context, and understand the consumer benefit to the recent changes, let’s first look at what Google says about the changes. In the FAQ it released Google states that it has made the changes to simplify its disclosures regarding information, and to provide “..one beautifully simple, intuitive user experience across Google”, including by, at times, “combin[ing] information you’ve provided from one service with information from other services.”
While some commentators have raised issues with this, the reality is these changes provide consumers a valuable new experience that core to the future of the Internet. Indeed, these changes reflect Google’s continuing innovation of its products to be at the cutting edge of the Internet, because they permit information to be consolidated and connected across products so that users can benefit from it. In other words, these changes—innovations really–should be seen as a benefit to consumers, not a negative development. Indeed, in many businesses a product enhancement, which is what this really is, would be combined with a hefty price increase. Here, Google’s price remains the same for consumers—its products remain free.
That point is also lost many times when issues are raised regarding how Internet companies use information—consumers largely do not pay Google for its products. Google is a for-profit business that has to generate revenue, which it does through advertising and other business models. While Google has enterprise customers, businesses that pay Google for certain services, the enterprise customers were not affected by these changes and the only customers who were subject to these changes were customers who do not pay Google anything.
The final criticism of Google is that is has not let consumers “opt-out” of these changes. This criticism misses the mark because Google has in fact enhanced consumer choices about how information is used. Google was clear in its FAQ when it said that information may be combined across products “if you have a Google Account and are signed in”. In order to combine information across products, Google has to know who you are. The way it does that, as it said in its FAQ, is through Google accounts that users create. This gives users two chances to choose not to take advantage of the new enhancements. First, users can choose not to create an account with Google. Many Google products, such as search and YouTube, do not require a user to create an account in order to use them. Second, you as the consumer have to choose to sign in to your account when you are using Google’s products in order for these changes to be relevant to you. If you don’t do both of these things, even if you still use Google products, your user experience, and Google’s use of your information, remain unchanged. Google has gone beyond “opt-out” here because it has given users the ultimate control—choice.
Ultimately, what Google has done is provide consumers a valuable product enhancement, for free, and given consumers greater transparency and control regarding Google’s use of consumer information, as we all move to a more enhanced Internet experience. While some may object to the changes, they have the option to reject them and continue using Google. Ultimately, consumers will decide if they want to use these enhancements, but Google hasn’t made that choice for us.