Google and the Detroit Free Press: Driving business while profiting from consumer data

As journalism continues to make the transition from primarily print media to online, newspapers are working to best strategize how to reach the widest and largest viewership possible. As we learned on the tour at the Detroit Free Press, this can be done by using analytics to find out which articles are receiving the most traffic and for how long the average user spends reading a story.  

Similarly, for years, Google has been tracking user information in order to better their services. Still, this use of data has not gone without controversy. In the article “Here’s How to Figure Out Everything Google Knows About You,” the author describes a give and take system, in which Google users gives away their personal information in return for access to endless online resources.  

In my opinion, I don’t see a huge problem with Google making use of my information, such as my search history, because it makes it easier for me to find articles, or receive ads, that fit with my interests. Still, this could be problematic as many may be unaware of the information that Google has and may not be informed about their option to edit their privacy settings. Some readers have different opinions, and believe that Google doesn’t have consumer interests at heart, which are discussed in the story “Google, Evil or Not”Do you think that this data-keeping serves the best interest of the consumer? Do you believe that data-keeping enables companies like Google and the Detroit Free Press to profit while taking away the security and privacy of consumers? How do you think journalists can make further use of digital technology to improve communication with the public?


5 Responses to “Google and the Detroit Free Press: Driving business while profiting from consumer data”

  1. Great discussion questions, Madeline! I think that no matter how it’s spun, data-keeping measures on google generally mostly benefit advertisers- the people generating the revenue. On news sites, though, I think it’s actually necessary- it lets the organization know what its reader base is interested in, and allows them to tweak important articles that aren’t drawing enough attention.

    It’s interesting that this topic of how to engage readers comes up when you’ve linked to a “Lifehacker” article. The Kinja network that operates Lifehacker, as well as Jezebel (and formerly Gawker) has developed a more personal engagement with their “community,” sometimes going so far as to give them places to publish their own stories (Talk Amongst Yourselves, etc.). This article in particular is structured interestingly- it required the editor to splice together opinions (in the form of long quotes) from commenters.

    The result is a smaller, but very engaged base of readers that spends a long time reading their various websites. It will be interesting to see if other news outlets follow suit in creating “community questions” for their readers- especially given that NPR removed their comments section altogether.

  2. I always appreciate this discussion because it comments on our desire to be known as individuals but our fears about sharing our private information. I personally think that many of people’s fears concerning this collection of data are unfounded. Some of my friends tend to worry about any of this collection of data because they believe that it can be used against us. I personally don’t think that I am important enough for anyone to care about my specific data and trying to steal my identity . Further beyond that it seems more likely that my government “official” identity not be stolen, rather an essence of mine used for some social media personality or something else in which case I have no fear. We are moving into an age where everyone can find out a lot of information about other people, and I think that we are just going to have to move into more comfort and trust of one another in this regard.

    I think that Al is correct in noting that the data-collection is used to make more revenue or in the case of newspapers and online media, get more views. But I do not think this is negative or surprising. Obviously more money and views will come as a result of having more user data because a more catered service can be delivered as opposed to one size fits all. The collection of data allows companies to improve for themselves and for their customers. Judging the extent to which they help themselves vs consumers benefit from this data would require us to lay a large base of assumptions and criteria that I don’t believe exist. We have no good way of comparing them currently and so I think that creates grey area in how we should approach the collection of data.

  3. evanhoopingarner Reply March 28, 2017 at 3:45 pm

    In my view, convenience is a small benefit compared to the risks of having all of your information stolen. The NSA program MUSCULAR, as revealed by American Hero/Treacherous Scum Edward Snowden, allowed the agency direct access to Google and Yahoo data – without their knowledge ( Even a company as advanced as Google can get hacked, in this case by the government. This is illustrated by a quote from Google’s former chief of security, Eric Grosse, who describes the whole process as “an arms race… We see these government agencies as among the most skilled players in this game” (

    While these government agencies are often subject to more laws and oversight than corporations (such as requiring a search warrant to be signed by a judge), these checks aren’t foolproof. Take the case of a judge signing a search warrant authorizing a local police department to demand Google for the “names, email addresses, social security numbers, payment information, account data and IP addresses” of whoever searched the name of a victim of fraud ( And if Jeff Sessions has his way, law enforcement would be given a “backdoor” into personal data, weakening overall security and making people more vulnerable to cybercriminals (

    Government agencies aren’t invulnerable to being hacked as well. In 2015, the Office of Personal Management was hacked, exposing sensitive information, fingerprints, and background investigation results of up to 21 million current and former employees, among them my dad, my mom, and my brother ( According to one writer, this contained information that could be used for blackmail (, and it’s easy to see how obtaining fingerprints and other biometrics would help with financial crimes (several banking apps, such as those of Chase and Bank of America, allow the use of fingerprints to log in).

    The phrase I constantly hear in this debate is “it’s a gray area,” which is true. It’s not black and white. There’s a lack of modern laws and endless lists of pros and cons that must be taken into consideration. What is black and white, however, is the vast power disparity between Eric Grosse’s “most skilled players in this game” and ordinary users like us. We lack the digital tools, knowledge, and resources of large corporations, governments, and hackers, and as a result, we are at their mercy and depend on their benevolence to keep our identities, data, and finances safe. It should be apparent to anyone who’s read the news for the past 10 years that this trust-fall has not been going well for us.

  4. I do not believe that data-keeping serves the best interest of the consumer when it comes to corporations like Google, rather I agree with Al that it definitely benefits advertisers. A lot of our personal information online is used direct our attention towards advertisements in hopes to keep us more engaged in the company and their partner’s products. However, I do believe that it benefits the user when it involves news organizations that tailor user data to make it easier for them to find articles that interests them. Same with music companies like itunes. I think there should be limits to how much personal information they are storing and what personal information is being stored. Identity theft is nothing to take lightly, and people who spend their time trying to hack personal information usually don’t care how important of a person you are. I think journalist can definitely take advantage of digital technology by having the accessibility to deliver news to users at anytime from any location.

  5. I believe that data-keeping is strictly serves corporations like google. They are just looking to make a profit and consumer data is valuable to advertisers. If the consumer was kept in mind then there would be options for the consumer as the article states. Today, so many people use google and their service is so convenient that it is hard to stray away from it and use their competitors services; and google nows this.

    I think that the data-keeping switch with the Detroit Free Press alters the news to more headlines and flash rather than personal or local stories. This changes the newspapers original formatting and could cause local readers to drop. The headlines are less personalized and sent to a much larger audience. In order to improve digital technology for communication with the public I think that personalized, local news stories need to be figured into the data collection. Those will get less clicks but it will make the newspaper more well-rounded.

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