On a continuous basis, European regulators demonstrate they are like mosquitoes. They're small, insignificant bloodsuckers, but annoying as hell. Today's latest annoyance comes from France. France is now threatening Google with fines because of the search engine's intelligent use of interaction data. Privacy issues are nothing new; however, I find it astonishing that the focus and attention is usually on companies and not the government. For years, I've watched groups voice their opposition to corporate data mining, and yet, until the recent NSA exposure, we almost never hear a peep about government's big brother activities.
Does anyone else wonder whether some company protests are meant to be a distraction away from governments' shenanigans? I don't have the answer to that question. I do, however, know what concerns me most. There is a significant difference between government and corporate data mining. A corporation's purpose is to lower its marketing costs; the government's purpose is to spy on you. Corporations don't use the information against you, and the collection has social benefits. On the other hand, the government can use the data to destroy you. You likely have already noticed that if you perform a Google search on any given subject, you're almost assured to see relevant ads while visiting various Web sites. Knowing what you're interested in better than other search engines is what makes Google popular and profitable. Microsoft's ( MSFT) Bing and Yahoo! ( YHOO) are set up to collect data too, although Google is much better at the entire process.
Google understands that if it makes it easy for small Web sites to buy and sell ads, Google can place the right ads in the right locations. The concept isn't all that complicated. Why Yahoo!, Bing, and others haven't created similar networks is difficult to understand. At some time in the future, other search engines will figure it out, but in the meantime, the money left on the table is for Google to collect.