The first result: Privacy Policy

Searching Google for

“Privacy Policy”

yields a couple of ads about how to make a privacy policy and manage your privacy, followed by Google’s own privacy policy as the top result. Logically this makes sense, but is it fair? Google will be the first to tell you that the first result is the most clicked on, and if you fall below the fold, you can basically forget about it. By surfacing their own policy, they’re influencing what people read about privacy, and what people understand.

So what do people take away from their policy?

“1. Use information to provide our users with valuable products and services.”

Ooph. That doesn’t sound so good. Taken literally, Google can use my information however they want. If they think a valuable product is telling me what my next door neighbor just searched for, that falls within the scope of #1. Reciprocally, they can use my data to help others. Does the fine print of their policy reflect this? Maybe, maybe not. But this is what the average user sees when they look for ‘privacy policy.’ How about #4?

4. Give users meaningful choices to protect their privacy.

Sounds okay to me. But this is Google, master of understanding and influencing my search and click behavior. Shouldn’t this choice link me directly to the tools for doing just that? Instead, I have to look to the left column and click on “Privacy Tools” in the hopes that this link will give me those choices.

In his book , Jonathan Zittrain refers to a fourth party, who provides content to a third party. We’ve heard of third parties – the people who iterate on the internet version of a big box store – Google, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo. Third party providers make great apps and great technology. This is The Fourth Party, a look at data, privacy and code, in an Internet age so great that there are parties to comment upon parties who develop upon parties.

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