Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com
Google Antitrust and Privacy
By Stephen Hodzic
On October 20, 2020, the Justice Department, amongst eleven Attorneys General from various states, filed a civil antitrust lawsuit against Google to prevent it from “unlawfully maintaining monopolies through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices in the search and search advertising markets and to remedy the competitive harms.” The complaint alleges Google maintained an unlawful monopoly in search and advertising in part by entering in to exclusivity agreements that forbade the preinstallation of any other search service and forced the preinstallation of its search applications on mobile devices as well as making them not able to be deleted.
Google, however, may be spared from being “broken up” if it can show that despite their alleged monopoly they are not harming consumers. Carl Szabo, who is the vice president of the tech advocacy organization NetChoice, states that a successful antitrust action generally requires three elements: having market power, abusing market power, and causing harm to consumers.
Google, however, may argue that people chose to use Google. Google claims that Apple features Google Search in the Safari browser because it is “the best.” Google notes that when Yahoo paid to be the default search engine for Mozilla’s Firefox, most Americans promptly switched the search engine back to Google, and that eventually Mozilla chose Google to be the default search engine. Google also argues that unlike the dial-up era of the 1990s, which may have required purchasing a CD to install new software, changing services now is significantly faster and easier, and that Americans are tech-savvy enough to be able to change their default settings if they want to.
For those interested in seeing what information Google and Google affiliates have obtained about their personal use across multiple platforms, there are several ways to check. Google provides a significant list of information related to privacy which can be found under their policies page (here). On this page, the “privacy checkup” tab takes the user to a page which directly shows the various options available to them under whichever account they are logged in under (here). From here, users can see options for their photos and Google profile visibility to outside search engines. Additionally, users may go under the “make ads more relevant to you” section and see what information Google has gathered/assumed about the user and their reportedly relevant interests (here). There is a toggle switch at the top that enables the user to turn on/off ad personalization, and Google enables the user to pick and choose which interests are relevant to them.
Perhaps even more importantly, there is a setting at the bottom of the page then enables the user to go to the “Adchoices” webpage, which shows a collection of companies that participate with the Digital Advertising Alliance (here)(see screenshot below). The Digital Advertising Alliance is a non-profit organization that is reportedly led by “advertising and marketing trade associations.” Under this page, the user can chose to opt out and/or disable multiple organizations permissions to customize ads on their browser. It is important to note that this is not a comprehensive list of companies and organizations that may have cookies/data about the user; however, this group includes well known brands such as Adobe, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and others.
In the upper left paragraph, the highlighted “AdChoices” selection
For more information on how to make informed choices about your online footprint and where your data goes, check out other privacy resources including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and similar organizations.