The last couple months have brought a growing chorus of complaint about the aggressive, cavalier attitude displayed by the dominant Web companies -- especially Facebook and Google -- regarding member information and privacy. Today I just came across another needless transgression presented as a "helpful new feature": it seems sometime in the last few weeks Google began providing information about my geographic location to various Web sites, leaving it up to me to discover that this was happening and "opt out."
I won't argue that Google did something illegal, because I think I know how this happened. A few years ago I let Google install the Google Toolbar on my Web browser, and I'm assuming that I (unwittingly) agreed to let Google automatically enroll me in new features like providing my geographic information to Web sites, without explicitly seeking my permission each time; like most people, I probably clicked the box to "sign" the agreement without reading all the terms and conditions.
These new Toolbar settings only came to my attention through an unrelated but equally unwanted service that was also introduced as an "opt-out" feature: for reasons I still can't explain, Google decided to begin offering me Spanish translations of various text items -- both online and on my desktop -- in pop-up text frames that appeared next to the English version. I am at a loss as to why Google thought I might want this particular service, but anyway after about a week I finally lost patience and followed the small text link at the bottom of one Spanish translation to disable the feature... whereupon I discovered that I was also "opted in" to share information about my geographic location with other (unspecified) Web sites. Like so many other new features offered by Google and Facebook, this is obviously a marketing tool disingenuously packaged as a convenient service for users. I imagine Google would defend it as a way to get more personalized, relevant content, but if I wanted to customize a particular Web page for geographic relevance I would do it myself. I also understand that this kind of geotargeting is already used by Web marketers, based on IP addresses and information provided by consumers, but the fact remains that Google has -- once again -- rolled out a new product which shares members' information without their explicit permission. I, for one, am angry about this.