Chrome OS, Huh? Will It Be Based on a Google Analytics Kernel?
So Google has finally copped to developing an operating system—Chrome OS, a software platform “created for people who spend most of their time on the Web, and…designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems.”
It is an extraordinary market play. And an unsettling one. For it seeks to place Google (GOOG), which already collects vast amounts of data about our Internet use, at the very center of our information experience.
The privacy implications are, of course, horrendous. And while Google will inevitably dismiss such concerns as paranoid and argue that any data the company might collect at the OS level will be used only to improve its services and benefit users, it should still give us all pause. Because when it is finally launched, Chrome OS will be yet one more deep well of consumer data to which Google will have access.
There are already quite a few such wells, including Google Search and Chrome, that profile user interests and surfing habits: Gmail, which gives the company access to our email conversations, and Google Voice, which gives the company access to our spoken ones. Add to this Google Street View and Latitude, a service that tracks the physical location of its users, and mobile and desktop operating systems and, well…that kind of consolidation of Internet-based services around a single dominant company should give us all pause.
Lest we forget, Google is in the behavioral targeting business. Why would people ever use an OS developed by a company whose business is based on meticulously recording and analyzing their online behavior? Because they enjoy using its other services, I suppose. But there is a privacy-vs-ease-of-use tradeoff here. And with Chrome OS, it is unprecedented. Further, while Google might tout its “don’t be evil” motto as reason enough to trust the company with our data, there are other entities that don’t always share that sensibility. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that the federal government tried to force Google to turn over user search data to the Justice Department…
“Competition in the OS market should always be welcome, but Google is the special case,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told Digital Daily. “It has become dominant across many essential Internet services–search, mail, video, online apps, and advertising. Coupled with Google’s growing profiles of American consumers and reluctance to adopt meaningful privacy safeguards, we expect that antitrust authorities in the US and Europe will view Google’s entry into the OS market with enormous skepticism.”
Jeff Chester, executive director of The Center for Digital Democracy, echoed Rotenberg’s concerns. “Google’s new OS has to be placed under the data collection X-Ray by US and EU privacy regulators and advocates,” he said. “Any expansion into the marketplace by either Google or Microsoft should generate intense scrutiny, especially for the privacy implications. These two are engaged in a global data collections digital arms race, which has far-reaching implications for consumers and their information.”