The subject of a recent opinion piece in the New York Times discusses the “privacy paradox,” a sort of cognitive dissonance that compels us to share information about ourselves on every available platform while simultaneously cursing the technology that makes our compulsive sharing habits so addictive. That paradox can have wide-ranging implications for the legal community, which now has an ethical obligation to “remain competent in the practice of law, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” The ubiquity of Google makes it necessary for lawyers to understand the impact it can have on the clients being served. For example, when Google periodically pings your device to track your location even when your device-location feature is turned off , it might implicate jurisdictionally-specific privacy rights or contract law, as a recent investigation by the attorney general of Arizona suggests.
Mapping a device’s location is only one tracking method commonly employed by prominent tech companies. Google tracks you in all sorts of ways through apps, it’s Chrome browser, and more. The information is used to facilitate marketing efforts, including sales to third-party marketing firms, and to integrate your online experience. A recent New York Times op-ed by Google’s CEO provides the company’s view on protecting data privacy while using the data collected to create a more customized economy. At its annual developer conference just weeks ago, Google reinforced its commitment to privacy with the launch of two new efforts — better cookie controls and guards against fingerprinting. Additional trust-building measures are likely in the works (including security features in the redesign of Gmail), especially as increasing numbers of users defect from Google to alternative browsers like Brave and Vivaldi.
The takeaway for legal professionals: Follow news about Google and keep reminding clients who find themselves in a privacy paradox about how information is used in the information economy.