Field RemarksInformation & LawLab NotesLiving between the linesNotesObservations

What “easier to read” means? In regard to new Google “privacy” policies

Débats - Debates

Google wrote me seven emails, one of each of services I am registered in to tell me: “We’re getting rid of over 60 different privacy policies across Google and replacing them with one that’s a lot shorter and easier to read.

That declaration brings me to three observations from following how the story unfolds this week:

First, the initial difficulty for the media, civil society actors, industry and members of Congress to determine whether or not this announcement corresponded or not to some changes in how  Google uses for our information and our user profiles, and if so which ones exactly.

Secondly, the difficulty to understand “easy to read” configurations: for example, the announcement tells me that I can choose, or not, to get personalized Google search results according to my interests as revealed by my uses of Google +, Gmail and YouTube: I have look in vain the configuration page, I never found the management panel for these configurations commands (anyone found them?). And even for those commands available, the description of their actual effects is often not that obvious, even to me for which studying such things are part of day job.

Indeed, thirdly, if Electronic Frontier Foundation is right, this is how I should manage this personalization:

“For individuals who would like to continue using Google products, but want to create some type of silo between Google search, YouTube, and other products, there is an option to set up multiple Google accounts. Users can set up two or more accounts as long as they have different Gmail addresses; however, individuals using this strategy to protect their privacy should be careful not to commingle-consider using separate browsers for each of your Google accounts. To be extra careful, users might want to use the Data Liberation tool to grab a copy of all of their data from a particular Google product, delete the data from the original account, and then upload that data onto the new account. For example, an individual might set up a secondary Google account for browsing and sharing YouTube videos. She could then download all of her existing YouTube videos to her computer, delete them from her primary Google profile, and then use a separate browser to upload them to a new secondary Google account. Unfortunately, this is a somewhat laborious process. To help users who wish to keep separate accounts, Google should make the process simpler and easier.” (Source)

In short, may be “easy to read,” but not to understand, and even less to help empower the users.

But I would not blame only Google in particular. The whole industry has made little development in how to present reliable, verifiable, readily understandable pictures of what actually happens with one’s personal information to begin with. Policies writing and configuration design are still organization centered and dominated by jurists and engineers. In Canada, almost half of adult population has low literacy levels and certainly as much does not understand much about information processing. These are the users who should be the communication targets. And that means much more than simply providing “easy to read” wording…

 

Living between the linesNotesObservations

New Digital Divides: The Personalized “Filter Bubbles” Menacing Democracy

ObservationsInstead of linking humans together, could digital technologies isolate them from each other? Could personalization of web services produce ghettos? Could it threaten democracy itself? These are the dangers raised by Eli Pariser, president of MoveOn.org, on June 3, 2010, during the last Personal Democracy Forum.

Ethan Zuckerman reported his remarks. First, an example of a personalized conference:

“What if we came to an event like Personal Democracy Forum, and sorted ourselves by gender, age, political ideology, hometown. Pretty soon, we’d all be sitting in small rooms, all by ourselves. What if speakers then offered personalized talks, adding explosions for the young male listeners, for instance. “You’d probably like your personal version better… but it would be a bad thing for me to do.” It renders moot the point of a conference – we no longer have a common ground of speeches that we can discuss in the hallways.”

“Google uses 57 signals available to personalize the web for you, even if you’re not logged in. As a result, the results you get on a Google search can end up being very different, even if quite similar people are searching. Eli shows us screenshots of a search for “BP” conducted by two young women, both living in the North eastern US. They get very different results… one set focuses on business issues and doesn’t feature a link on the oil spill in the top three, while the other does. And one user got 141 million results, while the other got 180 million. Just imagine how different those results could be for very different users.”

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