What Google’s privacy changes will mean for you

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Announced on the Official Google Blog earlier today, Google will be simplifying how the privacy policy is structured across more than 60 different Google products on March 1, 2012. Users will definitely benefit from the simplicity of a single document regarding privacy instead of sixty policies, but may not like the company direction stated within the blog post. As outlined in the revised privacy policy and terms of service, any user action on one of those 60 products can be shared between other products. While this system already allows the user to use one single sign-on to work across many different Google products, it will also tie into how aggressively Google inserts targeted recommendations into the user interface on all current and future Google products. 

How it works:

google_search-shotWhen a user that watches several live recordings of Katy Perry performances on YouTube, they may find a targeted advertisement for Katy Perry show tickets when they log into their Gmail account. Another example of this practice could involve Google recommending that the user follows Starbucks Google+ brand page after the user utilizes Google Maps to search for a nearby location of the popular coffee chain. With user content like emails, Google+ posts, YouTube videos and search queries already being plugged into this sharing algorithm, users can expect to see more frighteningly relevant Adsense ad placements across the Web as well as intuitive recommendations when using other Google products. 

This definitely doesn’t constitute a major shift in how Google has shared information between products over the past few years, but rather just simplifies the process on Google’s end when rolling out new products and making changes to existing products. If anything, today’s blog post is more of a disclosure of existing practices rather than a major shift in company strategy. As mentioned in USA Today, Peter Eckersley, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s technology project director, stated that “It has always been the case that Google kept effectively linkable records of our uses of Gmail, Search, Maps and Market for Android, and other services. Only very sophisticated users have ever been able to remove any of that linkability, and that remains the case today.” 

How do I opt-out?

Privacy- logoIn short, it’s currently impossible to opt-out and keep the account. Privacy experts are very concerned about Google’s complete lack of an opt-out policy within this new policy revision. When a user signs up for any of the 60+ Google products after March 1, they will be automatically opted into this new sharing policy. According to Common Sense Media chief executive James Steyer in a Washington Post interview, he stated “Even if the company believes that tracking users across all platforms improves their services, consumers should still have the option to opt out — especially the kids and teens who are avid users of YouTube, Gmail and Google Search.” As the privacy policy is currently structured, the only way to opt out of Google’s tracking is to delete the account.

Google plans to notify all current Google product users of the policy change in an upcoming email as well as messaging that will appear across various Google sites. However, this new policy will not apply to Google Chrome, Google Books or Google Wallet. While Google believes that this shift will help consumers understand privacy more clearly, privacy advocates are extremely skeptical. According to Center for Digital Democracy director Jeffrey Chester, he stated “There is no way a user can comprehend the implication of Google collecting across platforms for information about your health, political opinions and financial concerns.”

This announcement of company direction is a transparent attempt at competing with Facebook and Apple. Both of those companies utilize a unified platform in regards to rolling out new products and features, something that Google hasn’t been able to produce due to fragmentation between products within the company. Google is also dealing with a backlash from critics regarding how the company integrated Google Plus posts into search results. The response from social networks Facebook and Twitter involved the creation of the “Don’t Be Evil” add-on for Web browsers which strips the Google+ information from a search result page.

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