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You may have noticed, when using one or another of Google’s products lately, an announcement popping up: ‘We’re changing our privacy policy and terms. This stuff matters.’ Click on ‘learn more’ and you’ll be told:

We’re getting rid of over 60 different privacy policies across Google and replacing them with one that’s a lot shorter and easier to read. Our new policy covers multiple products and features, reflecting our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google.

In itself this isn’t a big deal – Google won’t be respecting your privacy any less, or any more, than it does already – but the more interesting question is what’s behind it. One privacy policy means One Google: if you use any part of Google you’ll find it increasingly difficult not to use all the other parts too. In particular, Google is using every form of leverage possible to ensure everyone has a presence on Google+, its growing social network, though ‘social network’ is really just code for a system that gathers public identities. Google is now determined to know not only what you’re doing but also who you are, information that until recently has been largely owned by companies like Facebook and Twitter.

Now, if you sign up for Gmail for the first time, you’ll find you also have a Google+ account. If you buy a new Android phone, you’ll get a prompt to join Google+. If you want your website to be extra visible in Google search results, you’d better be on Google+. If you want to talk to the president, do it on Google+.

In desiring so aggressively to create ‘one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google’, Google, like every other technology company, is now emulating Apple. And why wouldn’t they, when this time next year Apple may report a bigger profit than any company of any kind has ever done? What Apple has done more effectively than any other company is to leverage its brand, and the limited range of what it has on offer, to force its users to behave in certain ways beneficial to it.

Technology companies used to emulate IBM – Microsoft emulated IBM and Google emulated Microsoft – by commoditising the complement: IBM made it cheap and easy to get parts to plug into your computer, allowing it to sell more computers; Microsoft made it cheap and easy to buy computers, allowing it to sell more software; Google made it free and easy to do anything on the internet, allowing it to sell more ads. (Apple made it cheap and easy to get music online, which led to everyone buying iPods, and to 30 per cent of all music sales going through Apple.)

Google’s new business tactics are creatively inelegant, and insupportable to geeks: many of the things friendly to the open internet that Google could have done, and was in the process of doing, have been abandoned for ever. Facebook, Amazon and to a lesser extent Twitter have changed in the same direction, appropriating whatever they can – apps, music, movies, books – to turn themselves into the only internet you’ll ever need. One day they’ll all be competing and incompatible ecosystems: you’ll have to choose which of the world wide webs to be in, pretty much exclusively, even though they will all be essentially indistinguishable.

Unless, or until, a new company as ingenious as Google used to be pops up and opens everything up again.

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