Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Google: Selling Your Private Information (2012)

Google Company logo

When you send an email, you expect this email to be read only by yourself and the person/people you directly send it to. You probably don't think that other people or bots will be reading your emails. And when you compose something using Google Docs you still don't suspect others to see what you wrote. Or how about when you watch a YouTube video, someone is keeping record of all the videos that you watch. Basically just know that if you use any type of Google product or service, Google has a way to be able to see what you typed or watched and then takes that information to sell to advertisement companies. In Google's Terms of Service Agreement it states, "When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services." Once you agree to the Terms of Services Agreement Google can do whatever they want with the data that they collect. A lot of people feel that this is infringing on their privacy rights even though it's legal because Google put it in their Terms of Services Agreement. But is this ethical? I will analyze this case using four different ethical theories.
According to the theory of Individualism, one is deemed to be ethical as long as they don't break the law. Another key point of Individualism is to maximize profits. Therefore, if one maximizes profits within the constraint of the law, then they are ethical. In Google's case, they are not breaking the law by selling your data to advertisement companies because you agreed to their conditions. Google is also maximizing its profits. In 2012 and 2013 Google's advertisement revenue was $43,686,000,000 and $50,578,000,000 respectively. Since Google isn't breaking the law by selling your information and is definitely maximizing their profits, they are completely ethical according to theory of Individualism.

Larry Page, CEO of Google
The theory of Utilitarianism focuses on promoting the happiness of the maximum amount of people. Happiness is the only thing that has any real value according to this theory. People that own stock in Google are most likely happy because of the revenue that selling other's information creates. One thing to consider is if the happiness of those shareholders is greater than the other millions of people that feel their privacy is being violated. A survey done by Microsoft showed that 83% of people felt that Google was invading their privacy and 93% of people felt that there should be an opt out option when it comes to sharing their information. This shows that most people are not happy that Google is using their information which means that Google is not in accordance with Utilitarianism.

Kantian theory states that decisions should be made based on what's right, not on quantitative reasons such as maximization. There should be some type of good will behind every decision. People should be respected and informed so they can make rational decisions. Duty and respect of others comes before self interest. Businesses should especially be held to these standards. Google did perform it's duty to an extent by telling customers in the Terms of Service Agreement that their information can be used by Google for other reasons. However Google probably knows that no one actually reads the Terms of Service Agreement, and even if they did they would need a lawyer to understand it. So one may argue that Google in fact does not perform it's duty and should clearly state that consumer's information could be sold to advertising companies. Even with that argument, in the most basic sense, Google does perform it's duty and is ethical according to the Kantian theory.

Virtue Theory
Google Privacy propaganda image

Virtue Theory consists of four different elements. These elements are courage, honesty, temperance, and justice. Under the Virtue Theory, courage is to stand up for what is right. Honesty is to be truthful no matter what to all of the stakeholders. Temperance is to have realistic expectations. Justice is to be fair to all stakeholders. Google does not display courage because there is an overwhelming mass of people that believe Google is infringing on people's privacy rights, however Google still does it. Google was honest about it's actions and stated it's intentions in the Terms of Services Agreement. Google does not display temperance because they can't expect people to be okay with having their emails and documents looked at. Google was just to all if it's stakeholders because it is maximizing profits for shareholders and informed the other stakeholders that their information would be looked and Google could do what they want with that information. 


Williams, Amanda. "How Google Snoops on Your Email: Microsoft Accuses Rival Internet Giant of Using Private Details to Sell Adverts without Users' Knowledge." Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 06 Nov. 2013. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2487660/Google-snoops-email-uses-private-details-sell-adverts-Microsoft-claims.html>.

Arora, Nigam. "Be Prepared To Sell Your Soul If You Use Google." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 27 Jan. 2012. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2012/01/27/be-prepared-to-sell-your-soul-if-you-use-google/>. 

"2013 Financial Tables – Investor Relations – Google." 2013 Financial Tables – Investor Relations – Google. Google, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2014. <http://investor.google.com/financial/tables.html>.

Kaiser, Tiffany. "Microsoft Attacks Gmail with "Scroogled" Campaign." DailyTech. N.p., 07 Feb. 2013. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <http://www.dailytech.com/Microsoft%2BAttacks%2BGmail%2Bwith%2BScroogled%2BCampaign/article29851.htm>.

Erickson, Christine. "Google Privacy: 5 Things the Tech Giant Does With Your Data."Mashable. N.p., 01 Mar. 2012. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <http://mashable.com/2012/03/01/google-privacy-data-policy/>.

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