How important is privacy really for Google?

Each action we take on online platforms is commodified; actions are translated into data of monetary value for tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Apple. Privacy concerns not just the the data we keep online, but every action we take as well. This puts privacy, which is valued by the individual in direct opposition to profit, especially for Google which I have argued for decades is an advertising platform first and foremost, and a search engine second. So last week when the headline “Google to give people more power over their personal data” appeared in the Guardian, I read on with hesitancy. How much do Google developers really care about Privacy by Design?

Last month Apple introduced greater controls to app tracking, which at face value seems like a strong commitment to Privacy by Design. However, on learning that allowing users to turn off app tracking has a significant impact on competitor Facebook, I can’t help but be skeptical that corporate competition is the underlying motivation for this. Facebook is predictably vehemently opposed to turning off app tracking and is now presenting itself as an unlikely champion of small business.

In the context of all of this, what is Google proposing to offer consumers in terms of privacy? To be honest, on reading a summary of the developments proposed at last week’s conference I was slightly underwhelmed, as Google is limited to how much privacy tracking they lose without impacting their advertising business. The one area of interest for me was the discussion of subscription services where, like with YouTube, users pay for ad-free content. This may be inevitable should Google make a serious commitment to Privacy by Design.

It seems the old adage “If the service is free, the product is you” could never be more true.