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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Google Services - A Faustian Bargain?

Faust is the protagonist of classic German legend. He is a scholar who is highly successful yet dissatisfied with his life. This leads him to make a pact with the Devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. Now the reason I brought this up is that while all the Users are Faust s in their souls, the question that whether users are always in a bargain with Google always ponders me.

Google has always been the go to company for many services we use today. Some might be surprised on how much google knows about us. Google has got the upper hand over Apple in the services it is in because Google was able to read more of your data and provide you many contextual services. Google now, for example is a service which provides contextual cards. When there is a reservation made, be it flight, movie, or a bus, Google automatically reads your mail, looks for the details in the ticket and serves you the contextual cards telling you the time to start based on your current location and traffic conditions to your destination. Now for this to happen, Google has to read your mails, strip the vital information of your location, destination, time and date of the travel. Only then will it be able to serve the cards. For an user, it doesn’t matter what information Google is gathering as long as these services entice them.

But the inevitable question that arises is what else Google is doing with this data. If you think that Google collects data just to provide contextual services, you are terribly wrong. After Google does this, it sells that data to advertisers. Advertisers in turn use this data to serve you contextual ads. Google is doing this through its service called adsense suite. Google assigns a random ID to all the data and uses that data to serve you contextual ads. While the identity of the person can’t be known, the service reading your mails and analysing your location data sounds a little creepy. Android users can open this link and can see their location history. Open this link and you can get all the searches you made at Google. Google not just tracks you, it even sells this data to other companies. 

Many Apple users face the heat from their friends who are Android users on how cool Google services are but they never realise that Google steals gobs of data from them. Apple recently through its software update iOS 9 brought the capability of converting mails into calendar events. While Google fanboys proclaim the feature to be available for them for two years, the thing they never understand is that, while Google’s approach makes the server read your mail and create calendar event for you, Apple’s approach makes the iPhone do that for you without a byte of data moving out of your phone. A rational person would understand how different the two approaches are and why Apple takes so much time to bring out these features and execute them just right.

Down below is a screenshot of famous game 'subway surfers.' Now as you can see, it collects the information like, Device & app history (Allows the app to view one or more of: information about activity on the device, which apps are running, browsing history and bookmarks), Device ID and call information, etc.. Now here’s a trivial game that can read the apps that are present in your phone, apps which are running in the phone, browsing history on your phone and bookmarks present in your phone. Now what do you think the developer of the app does collecting the information? They sell it to third party, makes money and doesn’t care what the third party does making you vulnerable. 

Now, Apple never allows this to happen. That is the reason you find many apps in iPhone less functional than their Android counterparts for a simple reason that Apple never gives such sensitive information away. This is one of the two reasons why you find many Android apps being free while Apple charging premium for the fact that Android developers can collect your data, sell it and make revenues. The other reason being many pirated versions available and the ability to side load them in Android. But in Apple, you can download the apps only from the Appstore unless the device is jailbroken. 

For Apple, customer is the king while for Google, customer's data is the king. I know that this post started from being a critique of Google services has ended being a comparison between the approaches of Android and Apple, but the point I was trying to make is that choice is subjective. People who are very sensitive and critical about where their data is going might want to depend on Apple and people who don’t care where their data is ending up as far as they are enticed with the contextual services of Google might want to stay with Google. 

So while entering into Google services, beware that you are entering into a faustian bargain. Only time will tell whether Google is a devil or it isn’t!

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of DOT as a whole.

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