Ah, Google: the software is free – you, not so much

We are so lucky in the ‘cloud’ – vendors upgrade, with or without us. It must have been a thorn in the side of Google engineering that they had separate privacy policies for each of their products. And they were probably plagued by inconsistent contact handling between Gmail, Gmail chat, Google+, and their boatload of acquired companies (like Youtube, DoubleClick, Feedburner, etc.) As they simplify their own maintenance workload beginning on March 1, this streamlining could be an interesting challenge for users.  Many ‘features’ and new defaults may startle -- and not in a positive way.

Re-read the settings, contact management times are a-changin’.  Turns out since April, 2011 (just before the launch of the questionably useful Google+ in June, 2011), Google decided to upgrade the way it manages Gmail contacts, to set the stage for 'integrating’ the privacy policy across all of its software. Your Gmail contacts – the people you send and receive e-mail from -- are presented as Gmail chat possibilities and now Google+ circles. Chatters that you encounter by surprise may now require ‘blocking’ if you do not wish to see them as available for chat or do not wish to appear online to them. The new feature? Google added ‘Create contacts for auto-complete’ from your sent e-mails. This is the default setting, with the alternative being ‘I’ll add contacts myself.’ So if you respond to an e-mail, the contacts are created and if these individuals use Gmail chat functions and your status is set to available, they can initiate chats with you – or stalk you quietly by knowing you’re online and that if you're elderly, you may be sitting home alone with your one and only desktop computer.

The ultimate privacy invasion: designed for ‘opt out’ not ‘opt in’. So let’s see: you are an elderly woman who gives her Gmail address to what appears to be a business (charity, credit card company or political campaigner). They send her an e-mail, she replies. At other times, she uses Gmail’s chat function to connect with her grandchildren. She is soon surprised at seeing those business contacts in her chat contact list. These are people that she does not know well, yet they can reach her whenever she appears online. She has to block them individually – aka ‘opt out’ one at a time, rather than ‘opt in’ to enable chat. I could replace the scenario of the elderly woman with a different scenario that includes an 11-year-old girl, but you get the idea. These contact settings are not intuitive and must be overridden by resetting defaults or blocking individuals one at a time. Now really, who will help seniors with these new versions of software in which the change is an additional default setting discussed only in online tech forums? 

Ad preferences – do they help seniors opt out of ‘personalization’? This promises to become even more interesting after March 1. Maybe you don’t want Google to display ads that show how much the company knows about you. Perhaps you sent an e-mail that had words in it that referenced your volunteer project with older adults. But since you are only 22, you really don’t want to see products and marketing that targets older adults. So using Settings, you opt out of ad personalization. You are warned that you now lose the right to block specific advertisers; there is no way to block all advertisers, of course. So you think you’re clever by changing the setting to Opt in long enough to block an advertiser, then set the setting back to Opt out? Nope. Google warns you that opting out causes the list of advertisers that you may have previously blocked to be deleted. So the control you thought you could exercise over the ad content displayed, forget it.  That is the real privacy invasion – it’s less about what the company decides on your behalf, far more about your limited rights to override their decisions. 

This is your life on a cloud. Remember that this is an advertising revenue model that underpins most of the ‘free’ software that does not need to be downloaded onto a computer.  It’s not that you really mind that it is free or that it paid for by ad revenue. That's fine. And you like that you don’t have to hire software installation experts to take advantage of software improvements – these may turn out to be unpopular and perhaps they will disappear quietly later. It’s that your role in the process is assumed to be friendly and that you are eager to share. How delightfully naïve -- but really, how inadvertently dangerous.

Microsoft just posted this video -- enjoy

A video from Microsoft on the unpredictability of having your business depend on the 'cloudy' world from Google.  Enjoy.

 
 

Learning Technology

It is interesting that we encourage seniors to use technology, but then pass them off as too feeble to learn about the technology they use. I think it is disservice to seniors to assume that they are incapable of reading a privacy policy, or educating themselves on how to change settings in Gmail. This information is available to all who look for it. And I commend Google for the changes to their privacy policy. Their services haven't changed. Google has been serving personalized ads and contact integration for years. This isn't new. And they haven't been hiding this information either. Again, this information has been available to anyone who looked. And now they have condensed 60 policies into one to make it easy for everyone to understand, including seniors, who I believe, for the most part, are perfectly capable of reading comprehension.

Your point misses the point

Not sure why this was construed as maligning seniors in any way, but there was no intent to indicate that seniors are not capable of learning new things. 

However, since most, especially those aged 75+, are not online at all (per Pew's last published survey on the topic), then if they sign up for Gmail, its contact management policies will be 'new' to the uninitiated, regardless of whether they are unchanged as you asserted. Configuring the settings properly can be baffling, especially related to viewing ads.

And the contact management process is not unchanged: 'Create contacts for auto-complete' as mentioned in the post was noted as 'new' on tech forums as of April, 2011.

 

 

 

 

Doughbury, Thank you!

I work with senior learners at the University of MN and know first hand that many seniors are resilient, sharp minded, and capable of learning "new tricks" when it comes to technology. Thank you, Doughbury, for your comment!

Google and opt out rather than opt in

Back when I was still 'gainfully employed' I was told something about email and the same applies to all this stuff(being twitter, and I can't remember the rest. . . I'm an electronic Luddite) by our personnel staff, my management and our legal staff. Whatever you say in (you choose the electronic media) may and probably will end up on the front page of the New York Times, Washington Post, etc. Keep that in mind as you press those keys!

opt in - opt out

How will Safari - Private Browsing affect these issues?

Private browsing will make

Private browsing will make you anonymous to Google, as long as you don't sign in to any of their services while in private browsing mode.

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