Can you trust Google? Yes, but it depends on your definition (Trust series)

Can you trust Google? Well, 80% of the world’s smart phone users and 92% of the search engine market indicate it’s a pretty safe bet. Of course, that depends on your definition of trust in a digital world.

As our first article in the Trust Series, Can you trust anything in a digital world? No! found, the first definition of trust in the digital world is that there is no trust. At least you cannot be disappointed!

So, it’s crucial to consider what you expect from Google and whether it meets those expectations.

What is Google (Wiki definition)

Google is an American multinational corporation and technology company focusing on online advertising, search engine technology, cloud computing, computer software, quantum computing, e-commerce, consumer electronics, and artificial intelligence (AI). It has been referred to as “the most powerful company in the world” and as one of the world’s most valuable brands due to its market dominance, data collection, and technological advantages in AI. Its parent company, Alphabet, is one of the five US Big Tech companies, alongside Amazon, Apple, Meta, and Microsoft.

How does Alphabet make money?

Alphabet’s 2023 calendar year gross revenue was US$307,394 billion. Its growth is about 9% year over year.

  • Advertising revenue was about US$240 billion.
  • Google One subscriptions and Hardware was about $35 billion.
  • Google Cloud was about $30 billion.

Google has never obscured that it is primarily an advertising company, and its revenue finances its myriad of services (most of which expose users to targeted advertising).

On a consumer level, we interact with it as follows:

  • Android smart phone operating system
  • Google Play Store curated Apps
  • AI extensions for Samsung S24 and Google Pixel 8 Android (DeepMind, Gemini AI for on-device and in the cloud)
  • Google One cloud storage and more
  • Its apps like Gmail, G-suite, Contacts, Calendar, Messages, Maps, Chrome, Meet, Fit, Wallet
  • Search Engine and, more recently, Bard AI search.
  • YouTube, TV, Music, and Kids
  • Google Home (smart home)
  • Android Auto
  • Android TV
  • Wear OS watches and Fitbit Premium
  • Google hardware like Pixel phones, tablets, buds, Nest routers and security cameras
  • Google Education and Chromebook

Then, there is a vast range of business and developer apps.

Unless you live under a rock or are totally off-grid, you will have some interaction with Google.

What data does Google collect?

This is not an exhaustive list.

  • Name, gender and birthdate.
  • Mobile numbers and phone details like IMEI, brand, model
  • Recent Google searches and IP address, machine type, browser.
  • Websites visited, time on each page, whether you went to other pages, etc.
  • What you like: sports, games, music, food, drink and more.
  • Where you work (if you access the web via a personal sign-in at work or go to the same place regularly, use Maps navigation or you tell it).
  • Where you live (reverse IP lookup or if you tell it).
  • YouTube videos or music searched and watched.
  • Voice interaction with Google Assistant.
  • People, animals, and places are in photos if you use its photo cloud.
  • Ad personalisation allows nomination of topics you do/don’t like.
  • Optionally, via voice match, it can access your calendar and emails to tell you your daily schedule. It does not ‘read’ these.
  • It can access Contacts for voice dial, DUO and Meet
  • Google incorporates other information feeds (e.g., from any Google Assistant device) and experiments with sentiment analysis, among others.

How does this benefit or disadvantage you?

The more it knows, the more it can help. For example, voice matching allows Google Assistant to help you plan your day around your calendar, weather, location, transport options, etc.

In Maps, it can show you things of nearby interest (petrol stations, cafes, restaurants, public toilets, EV charge points, and so much more). It clearly identifies those who are advertisers.

Search can deliver relevant filtered results first (including clearly identified paid results), or you can select an unfiltered search. AI search on voice, text, or an image is a whole new ballgame that may be a ‘game changer’.

Does Google sell your data?

Google is clear on this – no. “We make the vast majority of our money from advertising”.

Google’s mission is to organise and make the world’s information universally accessible—a core to everything it does. It collects data to help deliver relevant advertising to us. It never uses emails, documents, photos or sensitive information like race, religion, politics, or sexual orientation to personalise ads to you.

In return, most of its services, like Search, Maps, and Gmail, are free to everyone.

A Google Account offers one of the highest levels of transparency and customisation of the information it holds on us. You can lock it down completely, but the result is that you don’t see advertisements relevant to you.

There is one thing Google cannot control

Google cannot control the data that third-party apps or websites collect. So, if it shows you an advertisement for product X, the moment you click that link, whatever data you allow is collected by that website or app.

Trust parameters for Google

According to the State of Consumer Trust report, the following are the US’s most important Google trust parameters.

  • To protect our data at all costs from breaches and misuse (73%)
  • To be open and transparent in all dealings with customers and suppliers, e.g. not hide behind fine print or legalise (57%)
  • To be a fair and equitable employer adopting all fair work practices (49%)
  • To do the right thing (whatever that is) for its customers (47% of Boomers)
  • To make fit-for-purpose hardware and apps.
  • Have a mission beyond shareholder rewards.
  • To remain true to American (Western) ethics and values (63% of Boomers).

Clearly, Google’s cute branding has had the desired effect: younger groups see them as a trusted friend rather than a mega-corporation.

Google meets or exceeds every Trust parameter and then some.

CyberShack – Can you trust Google? Yes

Trust is nothing more than a belief that the other party will behave using a similar set of norms to your expectations – do the right thing.

We should not blindly trust any Tech – no matter how big or benevolent it appears.

Do I trust Google? Yes, within the limits of my daily interactions, and perhaps more than I trust most big tech. I trust it will not abuse my data or sell it. I trust it to keep my data safe, and while it gets thousands of hack attempts every day, our data has not been breached.

Has Google been a good corporate citizen? Yes, although it has been fined for some technical privacy violations, such as not disclosing what data was collected. Its response is always fast and positive – pay a fine, fix the issue, and move on. Unlike Apple and its deep pockets that will appeal ad infinitum to wear down the opponent.

Google also stood up to the Chinese Communist Party in 2010, refusing to censor search results and present party propaganda. Consequently, Google Search, Apps, Play Store, and Google services cannot be used in China. From 2025, all phones for the Chinese home market cannot use Googe Android (likely they will use Huawei Harmony OS). This moral decision greatly impacted Google’s revenue, as it lost 1.5 billion users!

Am I concerned about AI and what could happen if Google was not benevolent? Sure. However, strong legislation, such as the EU GDPR and California Data Protection, is needed. It is healthy to have regulators acting as a conscience.

Data privacy and protection will be the key technology issues of this decade.

The Final Analysis – Google Privacy Policy

Google has one overriding Privacy Policy and a separate Terms of Service. Unlike most tech companies, it explains the policy in simple English and provides videos to explain it in even more basic terms. If a policy needs to be changed, it sends users the suggested changes, again in simple English.

It does have some country variations (to cater to different laws), and there are some minor additions relevant to some services—again, clearly shown. It also has extensive policies for App Developers.

Most big tech companies have several, often nested, legal language and conflicting policies (Samsung has eight policies and 40,000 words just to use the Galaxy S24, the Samsung Account and Galaxy Apps).

The bottom line for Joe and Jane Average: Google scores 9/10 for its clarity, transparency, easy-to-understand policies, which can be easily and seriously limited in your Google Account.