Is Google In The Luxury Goods Business?

Google CEO Sundar Pichai used this memorable phrase in The New York Times last week: “Privacy should not be a luxury good.”

That is a statement for the ages. It hints that you should not have to pay for privacy, which is a little different from saying privacy is a basic human right.

This follows the news that Google has gotten “religion” on privacy. It claims it is now pursuing a privacy model, as are Facebook and other tech firms.   

Hang on. To paraphrase a politician from years back, it’s fine that these guys have gotten religion -- but do we let them lead the choir on the first night?

According to the Times, Google is largely doing away with cookies -- those pesky trackers that document your online movements. But Google wouldn’t be taking this step if it didn’t have far more potent ways of finding out who you are and what you do.  

In addition, Google will let users “navigate its maps, watch videos on YouTube and search for information in ‘incognito mode,’ limiting the amount of information shared with the company,” the Times writes. “It will also allow users to delete web and app activity history automatically after three months or 18 months.”



In an interview with CNET, Prabhakar Raghavan, Google's senior vice president of advertising and commerce, said that “Google collects personal information to make its products better, not to target ads.”

That’s a little hard to believe coming from a firm that brings in more than $100 billion a year and runs the world’s biggest email marketing service, with 1.5 billion users worldwide, as CNET reports. Google is in business to make money -- a laudable goal in itself, but not at the expense of consumer privacy, as critics have long argued.   

Pichai laid out the new privacy strategy at an annual conference for developers while a plane flew overhead, dragging a sign that said: “Google Control Is Not Privacy #savelocalnews,” the Times reports 

That didn’t stop him. “We think privacy is for everyone — not just for the few,” Pichai said, the Times continues. “We want to do more to stay ahead of constantly evolving user expectations.” 

Meanwhile, at another event, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg proclaimed that “the future is private,” it continues. That’s an even more incredible statement, coming from Zuckerberg. 

The proof will be in how these firms behave. As the Times says about them, their aggressive collection of user data —  laid bare by several embarrassing scandals in recent years — has put the companies in the crosshairs of politicians and global regulators.”

All that said, we still don’t get that phrase about privacy not being a luxury good. Does that mean Google is going to come up with popular pricing for privacy?



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