Google’s decision to simplify its security and privacy control settings is part of a wider trend by technology companies of handing back power to users over the sort of data that they are willing to share.
The move – announced this week – will see all of Google’s privacy settings pulled into a single hub, which it claims will be easier for people to see and control what data is being gathered by the company.
Google is not necessarily being wholly altruistic with this – the number of negative stories about misuse of data continues to grow. A recent survey has shown 58 per cent of the world’s online audience expresses concern about the internet eroding personal privacy; a figure which has been rising year-on-year, while the threat of legislation is ever-present. So as a PR opportunity for Google, which has been at the forefront of data sharing scandals, to show that it is transparent is one that is overdue, and it could help change public perception and fend off intervention.
Cynicism about anything that Google does (or says it does) to improve its transparency is inevitable. After all, it is a business for which over 90 per cent of its revenue comes from selling advertising around the quality of the data it has garnered from its users. Google is unlikely to have done this without being acutely aware of some of the pressures mentioned above. But as a tacit acknowledgement of the changing attitudes towards data capture and use, and the rise in ad blockers, it is a revealing one.
By giving internet users the choice to opt in or opt out, to a greater or lesser degree, it shows that Google is willing to cater for a the full spectrum of people who use the web and accommodate their different attitudes towards data-sharing – from the paranoid to those who can see the value exchange inherent in being as open as possible.
Ultimately, however, it comes down to choice. In this regard it maybe echoes the statement made by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who famously said “If you give people the ability to see how data is used and you ban its misuse then people are much more happy to open up to their data being used.”
And on that basis, it can only be a good thing.