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Google Finds a Sneaky Way to Keep Tracking Paid Workspace Users

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Google has a bit of a history (understatement) of abusing data collection and sneaking in ways to continue collecting data on its users. This type of collection is all in service to their ad business. They want to be able to send targeted ads to users and the only way to do that is to collection information about them. This pattern of behavior has led to more than one lawsuit in the past based on the way they word turning features on or off and what they collect. Even Google’s current proposed solution to excessive data collection for targeted ads is confusing and seems like nothing more than a way to maintain control of the collection process.

Well, Google is at it again as they are now making changes to how and what data they collect inside paid users of Google’s Workplace. On March 29th, 2022, they will be splitting the existing Web & App Activity control into two. They are also getting rid of the Web & App Activity Admin console (for some reason), not the setting, just the console. It removes the ability to centrally control the setting by a workplace administrator though. This means that activity control will be in the hands of individual users. Now this is not a terrible thing, but it does make it easier for someone to mis a setting and it adds a level of complexity that is not needed for these settings in the first place.

Google further adds in some extra complexity to this by not including search history in the workplace settings. In workplace you have a history setting that covers YouTube, Location and Web & App Activity and a workplace search history setting. According to Google, Search History covers activity for Workplace apps and products while Web & App Activity will cover everything else. Search History will not be used for core advertising services, while everything else is fair game.

The logic here is clear, they do not want organizations to be able to control what they collect about individual members. So, they moved this out of their hands and back into the users. Here it is likely that the user will leave these on allowing for Google to continue to collect data for their ad business. On the other side they also hope that the Google Workplace Search History gets left on as it has nothing to do with personal privacy so they can collect that data too.
Another item to note is that with this split there is a change that these Opt-Out services will be re-enabled. This means that if you do not want them on you will have to revisit your Google Workplace accounts and turn them back off. This move comes at a time when more and more people and companies are becoming concerned with the amount of data that is being collected about them. Google, Meta(Facebook), Amazon, and others are going to need to change their policies and practices to stay inside these changes, or they will need to find a sneaky way to get around them. My guess is the latter here.

Sean Kalinich

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