Google's new Terms of Service policy is crap

12/28/2013 03:23:00 PM
A friend of mine claims to like the new ToS. He is no longer allowed to have opinions on technology.
Back in 2012 Google changed it's Terms of Service (ToS) policy. These are the stupid messages that pop up when you use basically any internet app, where you check the box and click accept, regardless of whether you've read--or even actually agree with--the Terms of Service. A legal system that requires boilerplate ToS agreements is a dumb legal system. But I digress... Unlike most ToS changes, this one matters.

The change you'll notice from the new policy is that all of the google products you use will be tied to a google account, so that when you log into one app, that account will automatically log into all apps you open in the same browser. For some things, this makes a bit of sense. Google calendar, for example, works well with gmail, so it makes a lot of sense that these two applications would be tied together. Personally, I also tend to use my google drive with my main email account, so it makes sense for me at least to associate those with eachother. You might--mistakenly--even think that this system is more convenient than separate logins for each application.

But it turns out that this system deteriorates very rapidly. For example, if your employer uses gmail for their email system, then you have a google account associated with your work email. If you want to file a document that was emailed to your work email into your google drive, under the new ToS google will automatically log you into a google drive associated with your employer's gmail system. That's fine if, like me, you want your google drive to be affiliated with your employer's gmail system, but that makes it a bloody nuisance if you want to move the document to a personal google drive not accessible to your employer (or, if you are a student, to your university!).

Now consider blogger. You can set up a blogger account associated with your employer google account, but if you want to put ads on it and make revenue, forget it--your employer doesn't support an adsense account. Some employers support google+ associated with your work google account, many do not. If you want to use google analytics with your blogger account, forget it--your employer google account doesn't do that.

Oh, and don't get me started on google wallet. If you want to purchase music from the google play store, you need to set up a google wallet, which also must be tied to your google account. But here's the kicker: whenever you change your password--which employers typically require you to do every few months--google will suspend your google wallet. You have to answer weird questions (what was the most recent thing I purchased with my google wallet? You tell me--how could I possibly know that? It was months ago!) and talk to customer service, which takes at least 24 hours. Google somehow made downloading Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin take longer than ordering the CD from amazon. Now contrast that to iTunes: I downloaded Eugene Onegin instantly, no bloody customer service required. Just to highlight the absurdity of Google's ToS, I want to point out that the password and email for my iTunes are identical to the one for my google Wallet. The only reason why google Wallet proved to be such a darn nuisance is the new ToS policy.

The lesson here is that you can't have just one google account. You are required to have at least two: a personal account tied to your google wallet, google drive, google+ etc, and a work account with only work stuff. But here's the thing: if google presumes that you have two accounts, then their ToS hasn't really simplified things--you still have to sign in to each application separately, depending on which google account it is associated with. The only actual change imposed by the ToS is that now, unlike in the past, you have to manually leave your work google account before you can sign into a different google app. Unless you sign out of your work account, every application you point your browser to will by default attempt to access it with your work account rather than your personal account. That's extraordinarily annoying to keep track of. (Pro-tip: browsers do not share cookies or persistent data with eachother. If you find yourself constantly toggling between google accounts, consider downloading a separate browser, and using one browser exclusively for one google account, and the other browser exclusively for the other)

Now, when I raise my complaints about the ToS with others, I often get the same blowback: why don't I just have my work emails dump into a personal gmail account? There are several reasons, actually. (Update: turns out that many employers actually prohibit this for security reasons) For one, if I check a personal gmail account at work, then I've just given my network administrator access to my personal email account. I know this because I was a network administrator for four years. Second, I this creates an additional management problem, which is that you must constantly keep track of which emails were sent to which account, in order to make sure you send replies using the appropriate acount. A student emailing their professor at will be confused when the reply comes from, say, worse, your replies will get caught in their spam filters. But there is also a deeper, more fundamental reason why I want to only use my work email address for everything: have you ever tried creating a gmail address based on a name like Matthew Martin? Let me save you some time: they've all been taken. Every. Single. One.