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Ask Slashdot: Should We Have the Option of Treating Google Like a Utility? 238

eegad writes "I've been thinking a lot about how much information I give to technology companies like Google and Facebook and how I'm not super comfortable with what I even dimly know about how they're handling and selling it. Is it time for major companies like this, who offer arguably utility-like services for free in exchange for info, to start giving customers a choice about how to 'pay' for their service? I'd much rather pony up a monthly fee to access all the Google services I use, for example, and be assured that no tracking or selling of my information is going on. I'm not aware of how much money these companies might make from selling data about a particular individual, but could it possibly be more than the $20 or $30 a month I'd fork over to know that my privacy is a little more secure? Is this a pipe dream, or are there other people who would happily pay for their private use of these services? What kinds of costs or problems could be involved with companies implementing this type of dual business model?"
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Ask Slashdot: Should We Have the Option of Treating Google Like a Utility?

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  • hah! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Artea ( 2527062 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @01:12AM (#43021753)
    They'd happily take your money, and promptly "lose" your information a few times a year for more.
    • Re:hah! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Artea ( 2527062 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @01:13AM (#43021761)
      By "lose" I mean "share information with a trusted partner" clause in their privacy contract that lets them get away with selling it anyway.
      • They will find a way to sell it eventually. The data is worth so much money that the temptation is just too high.

        The only way out is see is to make the data availability to marketers a *service*, rather than a product. Do marketers really want your *personal* information or is what they really want the ability to target advertising to you based on your demographics, interests and behaviors? Doing the latter does not necessarily mean you have to possess the former.

        What if Google or Facebook only provided the

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Yes, it's what they're doing already, essentially.

          It's also why these companies are hot on "real names", as there's a lot more interesting data about you in the "offline" world (e.g. house, car, neighborhood, credit, etc.)

          • Re:hah! (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:19AM (#43023371)

            But the companies are using custom 1-800 telephone numbers that identify you. There was a hospital or nursing school, I believe, that wanting to target gay males for nurses. They advertised on Facebook a special number that was only targeted to the gay males on facebook but the advertisement didn't mention that. When an applicant called the number for an interview, they immediately knew he was gay. This happenned even if he kept his profile private on Facebook.

        • Re:hah! (Score:4, Insightful)

          by iserlohn ( 49556 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @03:53AM (#43022323) Homepage

          Obviously that's what Google and Facebook are doing already - they aren't selling your information, but access to your attention. The information they collect from you allows for more targeted selling so that the advertisers can select exactly who will see their ads.

          • by flyneye ( 84093 )

            This brings the question of the legality of selling others information. Say perhaps you come across some proprietary information or company business or even personal information of Google or anyone else for that matter. When I was a collector for an entity that provided short term, high interest loans we used to call that insuran...er.. extortion, of course this only lacks the extra "incentives" . The better the information, the higher the price. The concept kinda tickles me. It wouldn't be possible to loan

      • Re:hah! (Score:4, Informative)

        by davester666 ( 731373 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @02:36AM (#43022127) Journal

        Or it goes to the cable tv model.

        You pay every month AND you get ads AND they sell your info [secret hint, all digital TV boxes report back to the mother ship what channels you record and when, what channel you are watching, and what shows you watch later].

        • secret hint, all digital TV boxes report back to the mother ship what channels you record and when, what channel you are watching, and what shows you watch later

          Wait, what? What kind of boxes are we talking about?

          • Not MythTV boxes. TiVo and the like. Basically any computer-based set-top box with a back channel and software that you don't control. It used to be that part of the contract was that you connect the thing to a phone line - now with broadband more common it's ethernet (wireless or otherwise), and they probably just hobble the thing so it doesn't work without it, rather than insisting on it in a contract (gives it away, y'see).

        • So what? Who the fuck cares what you watch on TV?

          It's not like you're going to be downloading child porn or instructions on how to build a dirty bomb, is it?

          • Do you list what television shows you like on your resume? Guess what, if they are recording that information, it's going to be used as an employment discriminator sooner or later.

    • Re:hah! (Score:5, Informative)

      by stephanruby ( 542433 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @04:50AM (#43022457)

      For Gmail and Google Apps, there is Google Apps Premier. You can pay $50 per user a year, you get no advertisements, and you get 25 GB to store your email instead of 9 GB. The only issue is that Google Apps Premier hasn't been rolled out to all the Google Services, and it forces you to juggle multiple accounts which is a pain. And it definitely does not cover Google Search (unless you default to the incognito tab every time, which anybody can do already).

      For Android, there are some ROMs that are privacy-oriented. I did try such a ROM, but I quickly reverted. In hindsight, I found that I did want google maps and google navigation to remember the last locations I had searched.

      • I found that I did want google maps and google navigation to remember the last locations I had searched.

        Then *your phone* should keep a history of your latest searches. Which could be even stored on a cloud server, in encrypted form. There's no need for Google/Facebook/Bing/Whatnot and their customers to know your data in order for you to get that convenience.

      • I've been thinking it would be an interesting experiment for an app to fork its business model:

        Start with the traditional advertising space/personal info revenue model. Calculate the average advertising/personal info revenue per user, offer a privacy-assured ad-free version of the app at that price. Also offer a "free" ad-supported version of the app. Then continually adjust that price to keep the ratio of paying users to "free" users at 1:1.

  • AT&T (Score:5, Insightful)

    by michaelmalak ( 91262 ) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @01:13AM (#43021759) Homepage

    How much you would be willing to pay AT&T to ensure they did not give your information to the NSA?

    For the analogy-impaired: Google and Facebook might be happy to sell you "privacy", but they're still not going to say "no" when the feds come knocking.

    • Re:AT&T (Score:5, Interesting)

      by neonKow ( 1239288 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @01:21AM (#43021803) Journal

      AT&T is already selling my information too. And gouging me on prices. If anyone should offer utility prices, it should be the telecom companies. Wireless service needs to be less stupid.

    • Re:AT&T (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LordLimecat ( 1103839 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @02:08AM (#43022045)

      Google has a far better track record than just about anyone else in this regard. They have said no to the US before, and they have said no to China before, many many times.

      Why do yahoo, bing / MS, et al get a free pass on this? MS already works with China (via skype) to intercept VOIP, and theyve also cooperated with China's censorship in varying degrees; Yahoo has already worked with China to reveal political bloggers. Yet noone gets on their case, simply because theyre not the big dog on the block.

      Honestly? Im happy that of all the possible tycoons of the advertising age, we have someone who puts up some token of resistance towards governernmental requests.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Google are not allowed to disclose even the request, let alone Google's reaction to it. The recent Supreme Court decision was along partisan lines, i.e. Republicans voted you can't challenge the super secret orders unless you can prove you've been spied on, and you can't prove you've been spied on because they're super secret. Hence NSA has a completely free hand.


        What Google

        • What you have is speculation. My comments focus on the actual verifiable history Google has of telling various governments to get stuffed when their requests overreach either their authority, or the bounds of "acceptable" (ie censorship, GFW).

          Theyre not perfect, but theyre pretty darn good considering that theyre a business and not a non-profit.

    • I'm ok with that as long as they are up front about it, and explain in their policy that they will hand over your information to the feds if they come knocking with the right search warrants or court orders or whatever is required. Law enforcement should, under certain conditions, be able to get at your stuff in order to investigate crimes, just like they can search your home in certain cases. That's fine, as long as companies require the feds to follow process, and as long as the process itself respects
      • I'm ok with that as long as they are up front about it, and explain in their policy that they will hand over your information to the feds if they come knocking with the right search warrants or court orders or whatever is required.

        AT&T doesn't require a court order. We already know this.

        Apparently there are days when Dutch authorities perform more wiretaps (per capita) than are performed in the US in the entire year.

        You mean licensed wiretaps. But every long-distance provider in the US has been forced to install government monitoring equipment. QWest was the only one that actually even complained.

        It doesn't require a court order (neither does a house search anymore...)

        That's not how it is supposed to work in the USA, but that's how it does work in the USA now. There were always lots of ways to conduct house searches, anyway. Wait for someone suspected of a crime to open their door, say "WAIT!" and start running and now you're "in

    • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
      Google may hand over info to the feds because it is required by law, but they try their best to notify the end user and ini many cases, used their own lawyers to fight requests on behalf of the end user. Google is the only company to be transparent and stand up for the end user when it comes to federal requests for data.
    • Indeed, Big Brother makes Little Sisters out of pretty much any company, at will.
    • How much you would be willing to pay AT&T to ensure they did not give your information to the NSA?

      For the analogy-impaired: Google and Facebook might be happy to sell you "privacy", but they're still not going to say "no" when the feds come knocking.

      Yes exactly. I could (almost) care less about which other private entities a company like Google or AT&T sell access to my data only because what they do with that data is limited. What I do fear though is these companies bending so easily to when governments come knocking, demanding data. Governments have the power (they have the big guns) to put you in prison or to completely ruin your life and these types of things have gotten this out of control thanks to the U.S. government scaring people about ter

  • Google services (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @01:14AM (#43021763)

    My company actually has several private in-house Google services, search, wave-like thing, docs, etc. It cost us a good deal up front, I honestly don't know how much, but we insist on using them because we can guarantee they do not leak information out (they are even firewalled from reaching outside the company).

    So it is at least possible.

  • by Dynedain ( 141758 ) <slashdot2NO@SPAManthonymclin.com> on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @01:18AM (#43021787) Homepage

    Google only does anonymous aggregated data. They act as a gateway between you and the advertiser.

    Who you should be worried about is all the other huge companies tracking your behaviors on websites. They're the ones buying and selling your data, trading in "partnership" agreements, and finding other ways to identify you specifically.

    Google doesn't want to know *you*, they want to just send ads to various group of people that you can be categorized into.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @01:21AM (#43021807)

      They claim that. Do you honestly believe an advertising company to tell the truth now or in the future?

      • Yes. Because I've seen what gets tracked in Google Analytics paid products, vs what gets tracked in competitor systems like Adobe Omniture. And you wouldn't believe how many millions (possibly even billions) of dollars get spent on Omniture licenses and implementations. Not to mention the mass of other players in this realm.

      • by ferret4 ( 459105 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @01:29AM (#43021877)
        The important point, to me at least, is this is what Google are claiming. Therefore it is impossible for Google to offer a $20 per month fee to not aggregate and sell your data: if they cannot identify what data is being generated by you, they cannot guarantee they are not aggregating and selling it. To do so would either force them to identify individuals specifically, or force them to admit they already can.
        • by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
          Paid users could be put through differents interfaces which don't collect data, this could be done transparently or visibly with a premium.google.com subdomain
      • by LordLimecat ( 1103839 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @02:12AM (#43022061)

        Of the 3 major search companies (MS, Yahoo, Google), which has said no to China's requests for call monitoring (skype), search censorship, and to reveal the names of political bloggers?

        Of the 3 major search companies, who has actually ever said "get a warrant" when asked for information extra-judicially by the US Govt?

        Ill leave you to research and consider that.

    • by JabberWokky ( 19442 ) <slashdot.com@timewarp.org> on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @02:33AM (#43022121) Homepage Journal

      Also see http://www.dataliberation.org/ [dataliberation.org] for how to exit.

      I'm pretty okay with Google at the start of 2013. Always watch for changing behavior, but that's true for everybody, including yourself.

    • The behavior tracking services that I've seen also anonymize it . They generally require that you use some gibberish ID for the person, or do some sort of ID sync where you tell them what IDs you want to use for each person.

      Where you often see a mapping to individual humans is with opt-in databases. Think of the act of signing up for an Amazon account, Safeway card or something similar. You've told them your name and where you live and they know exactly what you've purchased.

  • Willing to pay? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cervesaebraciator ( 2352888 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @01:19AM (#43021795)
    For everyone here who says he's willing to pay rather than be tracked, the chances rise that someone here will develop that service.
    • by tooyoung ( 853621 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @02:12AM (#43022059)
      Yes, which is why Google is testing the concept on slashdot...
      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        The principle would be to do it under another name and pretend 'partner' so it doesn't damage the corporate brand. The choice would be to pay or the by far smarter option to politically agitate for tighter privacy laws, consider by far the majority of people and companies would be on your side. So the choice are you pay google or simply force google to earn less, hmm, I like the idea of sticking it too google and privacy audits and a new per instance fine system (per person per instance). Here's betting we

      • Yes, which is why Google is testing the concept on slashdot...

        Slashdot's readership is primarily well-off, privacy-obsessed geeks. I'm not sure it tells Google a lot about the general population of internet users.

  • by Tony Isaac ( 1301187 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @01:24AM (#43021833) Homepage

    Your electric company is likely installing "smart" meters in your area...so they can track you more easily. Your phone company--cellular or otherwise--tracks your every move, literally. Your cable TV provider tracks your viewing habits in minute detail. What makes you think that treating Google "like a utility" will make them stop tracking you...or even stop sending you advertisements?

    Remember when cable TV first came on the scene? They offered "commercial-free" television, in exchange for a monthly subscription fee. You can see how well that idea worked out!

    Your offer of money wouldn't really change anything. It would only give you temporary relief, and Google more of your money than they need to have.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      What utilities scan do in that regards is severely curtailed.
      You have more power when dealing with a public utility(public or private) then you do with other corporations.

      And smart meters don't track you, they track you electricity usage.

      "and Google more of your money than they need to have."
      considering what they do with that money, I don't think it's more then they need to have.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      Sorry for yhe double post. I wanted to mention:
      "Remember when cable TV first came on the scene? They offered "commercial-free" television, in exchange for a monthly subscription fee. You can see how well that idea worked out!"
      this is false. the ONLY 'cable' companies to offer that where system that offered you a movie channel, such as ON! TV.
      cable system never promised commercial free and they have always told you they provide a delivery mechanize to your home for other shows.

      Do you think the cable company

  • by DontScotty ( 978874 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @01:28AM (#43021869) Homepage Journal

    It's called the "Jack Mehoff" account.

    1) Create a Google sign in with "Jack Mehoff" or another name
    2) ???
    3) Live a profitable and secure life

    • Are you talking about the Jack Mehoff that uses the same IP-address as Ben Dover?
      Simple machine learning algorithms will have you figured out in no time, really. They probably can even tell you the constitution of your household.
      And if that's not sufficient, your specific browser configuration won't help either. Better not have facebook cookies and don't visit any pages with facebook/twitter/LinkdIn/... icons either.
    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      You may have never used facebook or google, but they have a lot of data about you.

  • by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @01:30AM (#43021889)

    Your subscription has to not only exceed the revenue from the ads you may receive.
    It has to exceed the total loss to Google from the whole customer base.
    If I can buy Google with no ads for $10/mo, then Google ads become served to a whole lot less people for who $10/mo is irrelevant.
    These are some of the most lucrative recipients, and creaming off the richest customers from the ad-base reduces the amount advertisers will pay.

    • by DaveGod ( 703167 )

      I think you're right to suspect that taking people out of the ads data reduces the value of those ads disproportionately. But I don't think your specific reason is much of a problem - they'd just factor it into the pricing.

      Much more of a problem is that their ads and data are much less complete. They're having to add all these caveats and "we can" gets replaced by "we can't".

  • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @02:35AM (#43022123) Journal
    Which services, specifically? Most services Google offers have paid competitors. Google Maps? There are plenty of mapping apps. Gmail? Your ISP already provides you email. If you don't trust your ISP, reagan.com has an email service with strong privacy guarantees.

    Have you purchased Streets and Trips, or a Delorme product and do you use it? If not, there's the answer - the premise is flawed because you in fact do NOT choose to pay cash. Rather, you prefer Google's ad based model. I do too, for many services Google offers - I use their navigation and if that gets me an ad for some tourist attraction that's on my route, I'm okay with that. I choose not to use their email service, and pay with my time, maintaining my own email system.

    Facebook / social networking is kind of the oddball. The whole POINT is that it keeps track of who your social circle is, so that really can't be done without a big ass database connecting friends and friends-of-friends.
  • The summary has this completely arse backwards and is really a warped view of the world. Your privacy is your right, companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft et al should be paying YOU in order to track you, that is assuming you approve of it at all. They have absolutely no need whatsoever to track you, yes they make more money by being able to track and manipulate you but that is hardly right they should have and it is completely fucked that anyone should think you should have to pay not to be ma
    • by kbdd ( 823155 )
      They are paying you, just not in cash. They are paying you by providing valuable services for free.
  • I don't want to pay another monthly bill (likr the power bill, gas bill and cable/internet/phone)

    In fact i don't pay Google anything, I get my Android Apps from Amazon

  • People underestimate how much is spent advertising to them. At one point the New York Times had an article on Facebook that noted you were only worth $5 a year to Facebook, when the NYTimes was getting $1000 annually per subscriber with their "declining" print business.

    Would you pay $1000 annually for the New York Times? Probably not. Newspapers used to be very expensive and people rarely bought them. The model of putting ads in them caused a huge surge in sales. The ads were annoying as hell, they didn't c

  • I don't get this line.

    Is it time for major companies like this, who offer arguably utility-like services for free in exchange for info, to start giving customers a choice about how to 'pay' for their service?

    What about "utility" service allows one a choice in billing method? My impression is that "utility" here merely means some sort of public infrastructure or service. My experience with such hasn't yielded any that have such billing flexibility as the submitter of this particular article want.

  • What about the Internet as a whole? I think that needs to become a utility before a company does...
    • I don't know about you but I pay for the Internet all the time and it includes all of the privacy intrusions from Google/Facebook/Malware et al. It's been a commercial entity for years, just distributed in its ownership is all. Companies like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and others (in the US) have carved it up nicely amongst themselves. They can regulate how much traffic you use based on how much you pay and you get free services like the new SOPA like messages that warn you if you're using SSL or download

  • Like any Utility, you can not use their services. That may make dealing without that service difficult for you but there's a certain ubiquity about Google that means that like a utility they need to be regulated. If you use any of their services, whether that be Android or Google Search or Google Maps, just don't expect to get something for nothing.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      Well, that's not true.

      Google can determine information about people who have never used their services by looking at what other people say about them.
      John Smith may never create a google account, but if people who Do have a Google account talk about him, then Google knows about him,.

  • No, Google is not a utility, nor is facebook or bing or any other internet service. On the other hand, your ISP is and should be treated like a utility. They provide a communication service just like the telephone company does and should have the same consumer safeguards. In the internet age, your connection/access to the internet is every bit as vital your connection/access to the power grid and communication grid and should be treated accordingly.

    However, just like the utility company doesn't have a say

  • by walterbyrd ( 182728 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @10:17AM (#43023873)

    Sure seems like it. Every load of BS that MS wants to promote seems to be a slashdot article. As if this corporate propaganda were actually news.

  • by Georules ( 655379 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @10:26AM (#43023943)
    If you don't like the service they are providing for whatever reason, decide if you dislike it enough to find another provider. Then, do it and leave the old one. Why do we have any right to force them to change their business model?
  • I used to care more about privacy and didn't want companies collecting a bunch of information about me. But it's so hard to avoid! I held out for years on creating a Facebook acount. so.. my wife created it 'for' me. grrr!

    But.. how has all this information being out there really effected me? All I have noticed is that the ads on most websites seem to be targeted to me. So.. I get this nice warm comfortable feeling that all my geeky interests are more normal and I am not so alone out there. As a geeky m

  • by fa2k ( 881632 )

    You can use Google search and maps approximately anonymously. They may aggregate the accesses using cookies and IP addresses, and they could learn a lot from that (i'll leave that to the imagination)

    The problem with google is that they derive much of their value from the data you provide them. This seems to be intentional, as they make services like Google Now on Android, which provides unsolicited content-sensitive information, and searching the gmail inbox via the main google search. They need to get peop

  • As much as they think otherwise, the internet is not made of Google and Facebook. Alternatives exist and ought to be considered. For instance, instead of Youtube, try posting at Archive.org, instead of Twitter, use Identi.ca, instead of Facebook, use e-mail. These major companies are creating 'gated communities' where they control what goes in and out. You need not wring your hands, the internet worked fine before Facebook and Google. If my suggestions are no good, look up other alternatives and pursue a fr

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