Google Paper on “Opt-in Dystopias”: Doesn’t Reflect What Google Actually is doing with data

The Google Policy blog promoted a paper by two Google employees on the opt-in/opt-out policy debate.  The paper is worth reading, but its use is limited because it doesn’t reflect the actual online marketing data collection process.  Here’s what I just wrote on the Google site:

The authors need to revise their paper based on the goals and actual practices with online marketing and data collection done by Google and its affiliates. While it’s true that the binary opt-in, opt-out debate is unfortunately narrow, it is used to address far-reaching data collection and targeting strategies implemented by Google and other online marketers. The authors, for example, should examine Google’s use of neuromarketing for its YouTube advertising products; or the role of purposefully developed “immersive” multimedia tied to data collection by DoubleClick. They should analyze Google’s advertising goals, including what it promises to the largest pharmaceutical and financial advertisers, for example. Or examine the growing role of merging offline and online data collection tied to a specific user cookie to be auctioned off that is now routinely used in online ad exchanges (Google owns one such exchange). They should also reflect on how Google–when rushing to catch up with Facebook in the social media marketing business–launched its Buzz product without a careful analysis of its impact on data collection. Google’s researchers on privacy, in other words, would be more credible if they carefully analyzed how their own company uses–and plans to use–data. This issue deserves a robust debate–and we know the authors are sincere in their interest to make an important contribution. But they should also have been candid that Google is fighting off policy proposals from privacy advocates that would empower a user/citizen by allowing them to protect their privacy–including using opt-in.  The failure to have global policies that protect privacy is the high social and political cost the public should not have to bear.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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