How much am I willing to let Google stalk me?

Google Privacy Policy Criticism

As I’ve mentioned before I’ve long been a user and fan of many of Google’s services. Android is my mobile operating system of choice, I think Chrome provides the best browsing experience on both desktop and mobile, and there’s not a mapping service on the planet that can touch Google Maps. However, I’ve long known that using Google services is a Faustian bargain of sorts: In exchange for getting all sorts of wonderful data and information about the world, Google will get all sorts of data and information about me.

To a certain extent I’m OK with this because I’m a pretty boring guy who has little to hide. My interests include baseball, classical music and single-player RPGs. In other words, I’m just the type of dork whom Google can use to sell all kinds of specially targeted ads to and I don’t even mind all that much — after all, it’s sort of cool that I’m regularly reminded about Dark Souls II’s impending release or that the Boston Symphony Orchestra is having a huge Schumann-Brahms program in the near future.

But this sort of tradeoff is only useful to me as long as I find the services that Google is offering useful and as long as I feel that I’m in control of what I’m sharing. And this is the reason why I’m getting increasingly annoyed with Google’s constant attempts to force me to use Google+: I don’t at all find it a useful service but Google keeps prodding me to use it anyway.

The way Google is pushing Google+ on its users is unlike what it’s done with any of its other services. After all, I’m not required to create a YouTube account if I start a new Gmail account and I’m not forced to sign into Chrome to search for something on Google Maps. But now Google is making you create a Google+ account just to post YouTube comments and is making you opt out of settings that will let anyone who finds you on Google+ send an email to your Gmail account.

Why Google is doing this isn’t hard to figure out: It’s openly admitted that it sees Google+ as the potential One Ring of data collection that will darkly bind everything we do on Android, Chrome, Gmail and other services to one simple hub.

But in doing this, I think it’s taking away one of the things I’ve traditionally liked most about Google services: Namely, that I’ve always felt in control of how I use them. It also doesn’t help matters that Google is constantly changing the rules for how it collects data on us and is making us jump through opt-out hoops to maintain control over our privacy. And to top it all off, it seems like Google can’t go a week without being fined for violating its users’ privacy in one country or another, which helps explain some of the paranoia this week over Google’s acquisition of smart thermostat manufacturer Nest.

The bottom line is this: I’m fine with Google stalking me as long as I have a good handle on exactly what it’s doing. The more Google tries to force me to use services I don’t want and the more it changes its data collection rules, the less comfortable I am with the relationship.

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