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Monday, November 27, 2006

Google Checkout & Privacy Concerns

With the world witnessing a massive change in the online retail world,Google is pushing Google Checkout. The much publicized near online merchant portal initiative (the sheer number of participating online merchants show the power and reach of Google) is coming under fire with John Battelle exposing its weakness. Mr.Battelle begins his assessment by asking the right questions –“Google" will appear by the charge on your credit card statement. Your card number will not be shared with the seller." Why on earth would anyone want this to be the case? To lose your relationship with the buyer? What information *is* passed back to ToysRUs? What rights do I have to that information, and to know how it's used between Google and the merchant? . He spots this clause in the online agreement –“...Transaction information - When you use Google Checkout to conduct a transaction, we collect information about each transaction, including the transaction amount, a description provided by the seller of the goods or services being purchased, the names of the seller and buyer, and the type of payment used”. While Google is making attempts to make the mechanism more charity friendly, revelations like this could make positioning a tougher choice for Google. Also for the more analytical mind – imagine a scenario where Google can process commercial patterns through Google checkout and integrate that with the powerful search logs – mind boggling. When AOL released its search log, the true value of such data became so obvious. John Battelle then highlighted that the aggregate results of every search ever entered, every result list ever tendered, and every path taken as a result. It lives in many places, but three or four places in particular hold a massive amount of this data (ie MSN, Google, and Yahoo). This information represents, in aggregate form, a place holder for the intentions of humankind - a massive database of desires, needs, wants, and likes that can be discovered, supoenaed, archived, tracked, and exploited to all sorts of ends. Such a beast has never before existed in the history of culture, but is almost guaranteed to grow exponentially And it has the potential to be abused in its own way. I am sure that things would change over a period of time and its unlikely Google would continue to keep the processing mechanism as the same and would definitely strive to improve and make it look more professional and foolproof. To be fair, one needs to study how Google’s privacy policy compares with the likes of PayPal – but for now the mood is one of caution.

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