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The user experience with Google: You are the product for better or worse

Consider Google and its tightly coupled products.  You launch the search engine on your phone and are surprised to see all of these ‘news’ items about local topics that have appeared in your Gmail inbox. How personalized. A few years ago, a $395 million settlement with 40 states was reached about Google’s lack of clarity about its location tracking, which users thought they had turned off in settings. An apology followed, along with many more lawsuits and fines, including some large ones in Europe. Did anything change? Not really.  In 2024, as a result of European pressure, Google announced how to disconnect some ‘Linked Services’ in Europe, a euphemism for passing your data (you) from one Google product to another, a feature that may appear in the US one day, though will it really change anything?  Doubtful.  

Google can be embarrassed, perhaps not nearly enough.  Because you are the product, Google wants to show you what it thinks you will be interested in seeing. This can backfire. Its Gemini product (formerly Bard) apparently can produce images of native Americans but refuses when asked to show white people or European scientists, lecturing the user that requests like that reinforce harmful stereotypes. And then there is Google Gemini’s helpfulness with global politics and election-related queries, pushing the India Ministry to issue a warning when it named the Indian prime minister in a query about fascism. It then it dug itself into a further political tangle, attempting to avoid offending some, but not others – exposing programming bias bordering on the absurd.

Passwords, has anything helped?  Staying with Google -- because despite its issues, so many are. Mull the intriguing combination of ‘protecting’ your privacy, saving you from scammers getting into your email, and other altruistic (or defensive) motives. Google long ago offered up that bane of existence, two-factor authentication, to help you ‘keep your passwords secure’ – no, no, not your data, just your passwords.  With two-factor (or 2FA), you sign in on one device and then must prove that you are you from another device or by ‘choosing some other way’ as they so nicely put it.

Nothing has helped. Consider the conundrum of being sent an email notification on your phone from a news site – because you are a paid subscriber, naturally. But as you click to read it, you are offered the opportunity to subscribe or sign in.  Odd, since they sent you the email. But you attempt to sign in. Now you must retype username, send a one-time passcode, sign in with Facebook, sign in with Google, etc. You stupidly pick ‘sign in with Google.’ Oh good, a new look is coming soon!  And now a warning that to continue, Google will share your name, email address, language preference and profile picture with the news site where you are already a subscriber.  We are back to the beginning.

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