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Save us from the big bad Google we keep voluntarily using, European Union, save us!

This was started as a comment to this Commentator article, which didn’t seem to get through for some reason. Possibly because of one of the domains I’ve blocked, which would be ironic.)

Do you own a smartphone, tablet or computer? If yes then the chances are that you have downloaded free apps or use free services from the likes of Facebook, Google or i-tunes. Have you ever stopped to wonder why these services are able to remain free?

Once again, the loose definition of “free” in software comes back to haunt us. There are plenty of free Android apps, voluntarily released by their authors under open licences. Recently, I found I was even able to replace the Google dialer with an Apache-licenced one. Personally, I’m well aware whether an app is free or “free”.

Big Brother Watch highlighted the way in which some mobile phone apps have been gaining access to you text messages, phone calls, phone book, location and even have the ability to turn your camera on and off without your knowledge. Granted, this information is buried within the terms and conditions that the consumer accepted when downloading the app, but…

Woah, waaaaait a minute. “Buried within the terms and conditions”? I don’t know about Tw@face or iTunes (I don’t use them – more on that bizarre new idea later), but on Android they’re right there, on a screen of their own, that you have to actively accept before installing the app. What more do you want? A voice booming from the speaker, “Danger, danger! This mapping app will access your location! Danger!”? I’ve always been of the opinion that Android actually handles this really well. But if people can’t be bothered to read what it says on the screen…

A poll carried out by BBW and You Gov showed that nine out of ten adults had not read the new privacy policy despite 92 percent of adults using Google services on a regular basis (at least once a week). The concern is that consumers were unaware that their private information was about to become a lot more valuable to Google and as such had no opportunity to decide whether they were comfortable with this.

Yeah. That same poll found that 47% of respondents weren’t even aware that Google had a new privacy policy, despite it being splashed all over Google’s sites since the beginning of the year with the tagline “This stuff matters!”. So this isn’t about understanding or complication; it’s about apathy. I would have some sympathy if Google et al. were making it actively difficult for people to find out what was happening to their data, but they had every “opportunity to to decide whether they were comfortable” with the new policy and they simply didn’t bother.

So we get more guff like this, moaning for a few more paragraphs about “clarity” and “engagement”. How do you engage people who actively seem to resist? BBW’s heart is undoubtedly in the right place and the new policy is a bit grim in parts, but this is pathetic, weak-willed, spineless, statist claptrap.

Sure, there are EULAs that are too complicated to understand. So decline, for Pete’s sake. Nobody has a gun to your head. You wouldn’t sign a contract you hadn’t at least skimmed over, and you certainly wouldn’t agree to one that you weren’t sure about, so what makes software so different? We don’t need “protection” from this; we just need to stand up for ourselves like grown adults and take a bloody interest in what we’re getting ourselves into. I do it all the time. “Dolphin is teh bestest browser on Android!!!1!”, I keep hearing. Well, I read the EULA. Didn’t like it. I’ll stick to Zirco (GPL3). It’s a bit slow, but I prefer the cut of its jib.

And that’s the trouble: one of the main protests I hear when advocating Free software is that “X” program doesn’t have a certain feature that “Y” proprietary program does, or that the interface is slightly unfamililar, or it’s a bit slow, or some other minor functional issue. Proprietary software, with all its concomitant restrictive licencing, is just more convenient, they say. And, I admit, sometimes they have a point (hell, I have an XBox and its EULAs are nasty). But if that’s more important to them than their rights and privacy, then that’s their lookout, not their fellow taxpayers.

I myself will remain an avid Google user.

See what I mean?

Edit: Stupid WP visual mode.


  1. Paul Marks says:

    I am not a fan of Google (for various reasons). But the European Union should keep its nose out.

    If people do not want to use Google products they do not have to do so.

  2. JuliaM says:

    “But if people can’t be bothered to read what it says on the screen…”

    Thanks to the burgeoning Nanny State, there’s now an assumption that stupid people must be protected as well.

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