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Google wants to become a payment vendor and offer a checking account, debit card, and also offer a tool for using the (USA) paycheck protection program. Given Google’s already deep and wide reach into other areas of our digital lives, Is this going to be a privacy problem?  

Before there were privacy villains like Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Capital One and, according to some, the UK Government, there was Google. Yes, Google, the original Titan of data-snatching and data-mining before data privacy was even a thing (before the Internet was really a thing, actually), was using data to pursue its own hegemonic agenda as far back as the early aughts. I speak, of course, of ad targeting using data collected from the original Google product, their search engine.  

Privacy measures and smart browsers have come a long way in the two decades since Google began cornering the search engine market but Google remains a looming presence. Now, it’s Google, Inc and you just can’t escape its tentacles. For every product they offer, from internet search to Gmail to Google Translate, there are competing products but the company is just so good at what they do it’s hard to remain a Google outcast for long. Gmail blows away any other email program in terms of usability, spam filtering, and sheer number of genius, thoughtful features that just keep rolling out to keep you hooked.  

And that’s just Google, Inc. Google’s multinational conglomerate parent company, Alphabet, Inc is where the real tentacles start to appear, with 13 different subsidies, including: 

  • Calico, a biotech company that focuses on aging and age-related disease 
  • Verily, a research lab for life sciences/human health 
  • DeepMind for artificial intelligence 
  • Waymo, the autonomous driving division 
  • Several tech funding companies 
  • Several innovation labs 
  • Several internet access divisions 
  • A drone-based freight delivery company 

There will be more. Eric Schmidt, then–chairman of Alphabet, was asked in 2015 how many subsidiaries there would be and his answer: “After 26, we’re going to probably transcendental numbers. You think I’m kidding?” Alphabet’s leaders see no limits to their horizons, nor to their spheres of influence.  

Google has a bad track record with privacy 

But for a company whose motto is “do no evil”, its infamous privacy-breaching reputation precedes it. In the early days of Google Maps (2007), unwary pedestrians were caught on film, forever to be catalogued as part of the massive Street View database that fueled the popular application. That privacy problem has since been corrected, with a simply blurring tool – but not before privacy concerns about the company’s apps were raised.  

The ways Google has run afoul of privacy are countless. Up until about two years ago, the company was scanning all your Gmail in order to serve you targeted ads. And two years ago, the AP broke the story that Google was tracking your location on its devices even when you explicitly told those devices not to. The story revealed that Android devices store location data on you even when you perform simple non-location-based searches like “chocolate chip cookies”.  

Their privacy policies are notoriously difficult to understand and just last year, they were fined USD $57 million under GDPR for failing to properly disclose how they collect data across its services (search, Maps, YouTube).  

Now, apply that creepy feeling in areas beyond shopping and entertainment  

Google already knows a lot about you. How do you feel about adding financial information to the mix?  

It’s bad enough that the privacy-infringing techniques of Google Inc are affecting what advertisements you see and the deals that you are shown as well as the purchases you make (via its search engine) and what type of discount you receive and even what news is shown to you and what entertainment is pushed your way online. But transfer that all-inclusiveness beyond internet consumption and imagine this sort of singularity of influence combined with the power of data intelligence amassed by Alphabet subsidiaries and apply it to your finances and suddenly it can feel like your world is owned by Google.  

There are several hints that Google is interested in financial services. In the U.S., they have released an AI tool to help small businesses process loans for the Paycheck Protection Program as part of the federal government’s COVID-19 response. And just this April, TechCrunch revealed leaked images of a physical Google debit card. 

This is part of Google’s business model 

Google’s business model is to collect as much data as possible and then think of new ways to exploit that data. 

With last November’s announcement that Google will begin offering checking accounts, we can now officially start looking for ways Google will begin infiltrating the rest of our lives beyond shopping. They already control much of the buyer’s journey, with targeted ads, search, etc. Why not push their influence throughout the entire experience? After all, it fits their business model. Plus, the banking product (called Cache, by the way) would give them fresh real estate for ad placement.  

It’s not clear what the advantages to consumer would be, however. You could imagine that Google will, in some way, make it so easy to open a Cache account and so convenient to use because it’s already linked to the other Google services you might use, that human nature (i.e. inertia) makes you simply give in and join. We already know they’re really good at that- have you ever used your Google Account to sign in to other apps or websites because it’s easier, even though you know you should probably create a unique sign-in? That’s inertia in action.  

Business model, privacy views, and their track record: it all comes together 

Back to Eric Schmidt, the former chairman of Alphabet and CEO of Google. Consider his view of internet privacy in light of Google’s privacy record and their business model and it all comes together.  

Mr. Schmidt believes that true transparency is the ideal landscape for the internet, with no anonymity. “In a world of asynchronous threats it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you.” In his naive view of internet privacy, if you’re concerned about it, then you must have something to hide. In his world, which is Google’s world, there is no “privacy for privacy’s sake”. Shouldn’t we all be concerned about Google’s foray into fintech?  

Source: irish tech news (Int’l Agency)

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