You notice something that you have always believed to be true — even if refuted by a tech company — turns out to be, yeah, true.
You almost feel guilty, in a way. You want to beat yourself “I knew it. I knew it, I knew it.”
So finally we see here that Google’s own engineers don’t even understand the privacy controls of the company.
A (sadly unnamed) Google engineer offers this 2018 email about the company’s location monitoring controls in court documents unsealed in Arizona last week: “Location off should mean location off, not ‘except for this case or that case.’ The current UI thinks it’s built to make it possible, but it’s complicated enough for people not to find it out.”
Who would ever believe that a company that flouted privacy more vigorously and more often than a flasher could make privacy controls so impenetrable that even the big brains of the business couldn’t work out them?
Those tech companies in days of yesteryear were run by such wily young people. After Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg insisted in 2010 that people don’t want privacy, you’ve had the impression you ‘d never get any.
You believed that the likes of Facebook and Google would yield untold billions from hourly handover of your private information to the highest bidder.
Indeed, it was only when their transgressions became laughably obvious that any privacy protections worth the name even were implemented by such tech companies. Ok, something-or-other name privacy, not even the power over name privacy.
In the same year 2010, Facebook streamlined its privacy controls. Or, should I say, “simpler.” But real people did not find them that easy. I am sure they don’t.
As for Google, well, who did not feel able to laugh when CEO Sundar Pichai proclaimed during the 2018 congressional hearings: “Our mission is to protect your privacy.”
How curious, then, that another Google engineer provided bracing words during the very same year, as the court records show.
Asked about location data and how Google kept it secret, the engineer wrote: “I would like to know which of these choices (some? all? none?) would enter me into the wrongful-arrest lottery, and I would like it to be very obvious even to the least technical people.”
Clarity and tech firms are like fish and trees coming together. For too long one of the hidden joys of running a tech company lies in the assurance that your customers have no clear understanding of what you were doing or how. And you didn’t feel obligated to bring them to light.
There was no hope for the less skilled people to realize what was going on. They contributed significantly, of course, by not taking care of enough, or even at all. To post pictures of the cake you’ve just baked, the bike you’ve just bought, or the spouse you’ve just married, was too thrilling.
There was, nevertheless, trust expectation somewhere. Yeah, oh tech business, you ‘re doing wizard work and making my life so much better and simpler, but try not to take advantage (too much) of that.
How those Google engineers must have thought to see just how much benefit they took.
Google’s mindset, of course, is to say it is working too hard to strengthen restrictions on privacy.
In fact , Google launched an option last year that would allow users to ensure that data on location history and even data on search history could be auto-deleted.
This may only have been because those in government are trying too hard to pass tough regulations that will make the lives of tech firms a little harder.
It may also have been because Google and Facebook likes have found all kinds of new ways to follow people around and monetize every step and every thought they make. In fact, the Arizona lawsuit states that turning off location tracking won’t mean Google won’t be able to target you. It simply means that the business can not target you as reliably as the fourth pavement slab outside number 83, Outofharms Way, does.
And then DoubleClick is in. If you want to fix the penchant of this ad service to deliver location-based advertisements, it seems you need to go to another small app. (Disclosure: DoubleClick owns Google.)
Do users need to work so hard to achieve a bit of privacy? How many people do you meet, who changes their privacy settings on their devices and apps actively and regularly?
Maybe an uplifting day will come when we can arrange all of our social media and other online activities in even more specific ways. Maybe we’ll be able to decide exactly who gets to learn something about us in some incredibly simple way.
Maybe at the same time, I am dreaming and joking.