Commentary

Misunderstanding ‘Opt Out’

It’s gratifying to see some logic being used to attack the techno-panic about Google’s new privacy policy. It seems the biggest complaint is that there is no opt-out. If you want to use Google’s services, you have to agree to its privacy policy, which will allow it to consolidate the information it gathers about you across its 60-odd platforms. This in turn helps it target advertising–the way Google supports all those free services–at users who will most likely respond to it.

Still, this seems to rankle people, including a bunch of Congressmen who this week sent Google a nasty letter demanding there be some kind of opt-out.

Now you can opt-out by choosing not use Google’s personalized services, like its calendar and email, and simply visit YouTube and use Google Maps anonymously, that is, without using any Google log-in. Of course you forfeit some value and functionality in doing so, but that’s the trade off. This also rankles people, including a the same Congressmen who this week sent Google that nasty letter.

To be momentarily charitable, it’s possible that this knee-jerk reaction stems from the fact that there are certain aspects of Internet services you can opt out from, such as allowing web sites provide your email address provided to third parties. But when the grand scheme of business relationships is considered, these specific opt-outs are exceptions. Most of the time, there are some binding stipulations when you agree to use any tangible or virtual service.

A good example is non-smoking rooms at hotels. When you request a no smoking room, even if you’re a smoker, the hotel’s guest policy requires you to abstain from smoking in your room or face a hefty cleaning fee. You can’t request the non-smoking room and “opt out” of the condition to pay a cleaning fee if you smoke.

Note the smoker is not turned away into the night. What the smoker must settle for, however, is a room where the carpet doesn’t smell as fresh and the upholstery isn’t as clean. To complain that this is an inconvenience doesn’t get much sympathy, much less an obnoxious letter from Congress.

For more on the absurdity of the Google outcry, see this video at Technology Liberation Front that came by way of Forbes.

Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.

Titch's work primarily focused on telecommunications, the Internet and new media. He is a former managing editor of InfoTech & Telecom News (IT&T News) published by the Heartland Institute. His columns have appeared in Investor's Business Daily, Total Telecom, and America's Network, among others.

Prior to joining Reason in 2004, Titch covered the telecommunications industry as a journalist for more than two decades. Titch was director of editorial projects for Data Communications magazine where he directed content development for supplemental publications and special projects. He has also held the positions of editorial director of Telephony, editor of Global Telephony magazine, Midwest bureau chief of CommunicationsWeek, and associate editor-communications at Electronic News.

Outside of the telecom industry, Titch conducted rich media and content development for publishers and corporate marketing groups. He has also developed and launched his own web-based media, including SecuritySquared.com, an on-line resource for the security industry.

Titch graduated cum laude from Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism and English.