At the ZDNet Education blog, Christopher Dawson wrote a very interesting post about the "price" consumers pay for using services from Google. Most know that all Google services are free. By "price," Dawson means:
"There is no such thing as a free lunch; obviously I need to give Google something for all of the super cool tools it gives me to use in my personal, professional, and academic lives. This isn’t news to me and it isn’t news to my users (who I encourage to use Google’s tools). It isn’t news to them because I make it abundantly clear what it costs to use Google’s services."
One of my coworkers, Doug, absolutely loves anything Google. I understand the enthusiasm people like Doug have for Google, since the company has introduced several services many consumers find attractive: calendar, maps, e-mail, search, Google Earth, RSS feed reader, web site analytics, web browser -- I have no idea exactly how many different Google services Doug uses. I just know it's a lot. He frequently talks about how great they are. And, I happily remind Doug what he has given up and continues to give up: a fair amount of personal data.
I'm glad that Dawson included this topic in his Education blog. It's important for consumers to evaluate at every web site they visit how much sensitive personal data they are asked to disclose. It's important for consumers to make an explicit, conscious decision: if the free service is worth the personal data they must disclose.
Why? Wherever a consumer's personal data is stored or collected, that represents a place where it can be hacked, lost, or stolen -- and then abused by identity thieves.
My impression is that few students, in both high school or college, pause to consider how much sensitive personal data they disclose online, until it's too late (e.g., it's stolen). An even smaller number pause to consider if the free service is worth the personal data disclosed.
I wonder if this decision making is taught in schools. Few students, or adults, think about how much personal information they give up in return for free Internet-based services.
Don't get me wrong. I use several services from Google, and I am a fairly satisfied Google Analytics customer. But there are some Google services I avoid, like Gmail, for privacy reasons. Michael Krigsman summed up the situation well in his ZDNet IT Project Failures blog , in a post titled, "Google is NOT Your Friend:"
"Whether or not they realize it, all Google users engage in an implicit business deal with the company. Those amazing, so-called free, tools come at the cost of your privacy. Google hoards your data for use anytime, anywhere its voracious heart desires. The clever company is always thinking up new ways to slice and dice your personal data in service of its corporate profit."
Consumers should adopt Google's motto of "Do no evil." That is, when it comes to managing your sensitive personal data, consumers should take care not to do any evil: shop anywhere or do anything that jeopardizes their sensitive personal data.