October 24th, 2012
…at least if you’re Google.
The interesting site Terms of Service; Didn’t Read gives Google a thumbs-down because “Google can use your content for all their existing and future services”.
I don’t think a thumbs-down is really fair here – I mean, that’s the whole point of Google.
Google is a service that gives out free answers in exchange for valuable questions.
Answers are worthless to Google (though not to you) because Google already knows those answers. But it doesn’t know your questions. So the questions are valuable (to Google, not to you). Because Google learns something from every question.
When you start typing a search into Google and it suggests searches based on what other people have searched for, that’s using your private information (your search history) to help other people. They’re not giving away any of your personal information (nobody but Google knows what you searched for or when), but they are using your information.
Google gets lots of useful information from the questions that people ask it. It uses that information to offer valuable services (like search suggestions) to other people (and to you), that they make money from (mostly by selling advertising).
That’s not a bad thing. It’s the only way to do many of the amazing, useful, and free things that Google does. I’m perfectly fine with it, but you have to more-or-less trust Google to stick to their promise to keep your private info private.
I think Google does a lot more of this than most people suspect.
When you’re driving and using Google Map to navigate, you’re getting free maps and directions. But Google is getting real-time data from you about how much traffic is on that road, and how fast it’s moving.
When you search for information on flu symptoms, Google learns something about flu trends in your area.
Sometimes I ask Google a question using voice recognition and it doesn’t understand. After a couple of tries, I type in the query. I’ve just taught Google what I was saying – next time it’s much more likely to understand.
When you use GMail, Google learns about patterns of world commerce and communication, who is connected to who, who is awake at what time of day, etc. Even if it doesn’t read the contents of the mail.
When you search for a product, Google learns about demand in that market, by location and time of day and demographics (it knows a lot about you and your other interests).
Google learns from our questions – answers are the price Google pays for them.