By Ellen Blackler, AT&T Executive Director – Public Policy

If the customer is always right, it matters a lot if you are the customer or the product.

I have been shaking my head over Google’s introduction of BUZZ wondering how they could have misread the privacy interests so badly. What were they thinking?  Surely any even half-hearted attempt at a privacy impact assessment or rudimentary customer testing would have led them to the conclusion that you can’t just, for instance, make up and publically share peoples’ lists of most frequently emailed contacts without asking them.  Sure, lots of people will be happy to have you do it, but lots won’t be.  And surely they could have anticipated the privacy advocacy community’s reaction.

And we know they aren’t stupid, they are Google, after all.  They have brought us some of the coolest stuff on earth.   So this morning, waiting (and waiting and waiting) for the Red Line train to recover from its latest mechanical difficulties at Forest Glen, it hit me.  Of course!  They are keeping the needs of their customers’ front and center – it’s just that the customer isn’t me, it’s an advertiser!   I – or rather, data about me – am the product!   It makes perfect sense, and I knew it already.  I know Google dominates in internet advertising and aspires to more.  I know their whole business plan is to gather ever more and richer data so that it can make advertising even more and more targeted and relevant (and thus charge advertisers more for it).

I knew it, but I forgot it for a little bit while my kid and I tried to figure out how to adjust the settings on his gmail account to prevent his personal information from being exposed via Google BUZZ .  (Our answer:  Just turn it off.  His real friends are on Facebook already.)

So, of course, they did make decisions that are in the best interest of their customers.  They built the capability to analyze who you talk to most, what you say, where you are, what you are posting, why you are where you are and where you go next.  Along the way they added some features to let you use the data a bit too.  But they did it not for you; they did it for the customers – advertisers.

More data = more and better stuff to sell to advertisers = more revenue.  Users are not really in that equation at all.

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