Google Privacy Policy Fine Print: Why They Really Want Your Mobile Number

January 26, 2012: Google’s March 1st Terms Associate Mobile Number and Profile Account

Google Privacy Policy

Google announced yesterday that their privacy policies and terms of service would be altered as of March 1, 2012. There have been many articles on this topic, but I’d like to look at the issues surrounding the mobile relationship in this new policy. With these changes, specifically ones relating to mobile devices, I wanted to dig deeper into what was actually happening. Being from the search and business development world for 10+ years, I’m often curious and sometimes skeptical on rolling changes to an existing privacy policy. While I appreciate Google creating a “new main policy” that covers multiple products and creating a “beautifully simple” user experience, I ask myself, to what end?

Mobile Tracking

I’m sure many of you have been getting requests to add your phone number when you log into your Google Profile for quite some time now. If you haven’t seen it in a while, here might be a good reason why.

In the previous Terms of Service, whenever you sent or received an SMS message to a Google service, your information, such as the phone number, associated wireless carrier, message content, and timestamp would be gathered and saved. As this is the same information that could be gathered by a call provider, it isn’t all that groundbreaking.

Based on the March 1, 2012 Terms, Google can now collect, store and utilize a great deal more.

Association of your Call Information to Your Google Profile.

Information will now be collected in one of two ways:

  • What you give Google- a name, email address, phone number, photo, all of which can be housed on a Google profile.
  • The information that is gathered when you use Google services.

To break down the second point, there are three types of information gathered.

  • Device Information
    If you check out the device information section in the new privacy policy, you’ll be looking at this, “Google may associate your device identifiers or phone number with your Google Account.” i.e. When you click through an ad, Google ties it to your profile. Since they have a time stamp of the call and a timestamp of your click to the ad, guess what? They know you called from that ad source. Fascinating stuff, but I’m wondering how Google will use this conversion data. Google is creating a click to call profile model like no other. Not only do they know whom and when you called, they know everything in your profile for serving you additional ads. Pretty slick!

  • Log Information
    If you plan on using Google services, plan on Google collecting and storing that information in a server log. Basically, Google has your queries, the ads that you’ve clicked on, and the time and duration of your calls. Mix in Google Analytics and you’re covering all bases for calls and on site conversions. Too bad Google can’t track your IP address or track you via GPS to know if you went into the location of the merchant you searched. Oh wait, see below…

  • Location Information
    In addition to gathering information from your devices and storing it all in a server log, Google also has the ability to collect information on your whereabouts when you use a location-enabled Google service, such as GPS from a mobile device. They may also use other technologies “such assensor data from your device that may, for example, provide information on nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers.”

Is what Google is doing an invasion of privacy? Being from the marketing space, I don’t believe Google is doing anything that the marketing community hasn’t been trying for years, Google just has access to the data for the entire sales funnel.

The merge of phone numbers to a database, and mapping those numbers to call provider data is commonplace in this industry.

My issue is how Google is positioning the “beautifully simple” merge of data for the benefit of the user. The real goal is a targeted marketing campaign tracking conversions to justify value to Google’s advertisers. While the March 1, 2012 policy clearly defines what information Google can extrapolate from your profile, I think a better explanation on how and why it is being used, might be in order.

How do you feel about the impact of your mobile number and Google Profile being connected? Helpful or hindrance?

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