Is Google a public service?

I was struck this morning by the slightly odd coverage on BBC News about Google’s changes to its privacy policy. The discussion took on a vehemence and moral indignation out of all proportion to what was actually happening. If a business with multiple product lines decides it wants to rationalise its policies in order to improve interoperability between those products and at the same time increase its attractiveness to advertisers (who provide its income) then what is the problem?

I accept that if I consume a ‘free’ service it needs to be paid for in some way. I know that I am fed advertising, and with the new policy it looks like that will be better targeted. If someone wants to try and link my recent searches then good luck. Knowing I have a penchant for inflatable roof racks, white shirts, running kit and large wheeled mountain bikes is hardly “dangerous” as was being suggested on the BBC by a so called expert this morning.

Whilst Google may be fairly ubiquitous (and Chrome is due to overtake IE as the browser of choice shortly)  ‘other search engines are available’. The real danger is that a dogged determination not to join things up in the private sector, where the consumer has the choice to simply go somewhere else will prevent the sort of thinking in the public sector we need to engage in.

The tenor of the debate today was of the sort normally reserved for discussions on monopoly public services. In the public mind is Google now a public service, (a right)?

The launch of GOV.UK yesterday was a great step forward with a drive for government information in one place. I would like to see the same principle adopted for customer records so that when I tell DVLA that I have moved they automatically update my tax records, voter registration, council tax, etc. We should be applauding the principle of seeking to offer better service by leveraging the value of data – and if you don’t feel like clapping then go and use someone else’s free service……


About iansthoughts

Chief Operating Officer at DEFRA, and former council Chief Executive. All views expressed are my own and not formal policy of my employers current or past.
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