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Google pushes back against privacy policy uproar, misinformation

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After weathering days of outrage from users, the media, and even members of Congress, over its newly unified privacy policy and Terms of Service, Google has responded to the kerfuffle, refuting many of the complaints and misconceptions about what the policy change really means.

“Here’s the real story,” writes Betsy Masiello, Google’s policy manager, on the Google blog:

  • You still have choice and control. You don’t need to log in to use many of our services, including Search, Maps and YouTube. If you are logged in, you can still edit or turn off your Search history, switch Gmail chat to “off the record,” control the way Google tailors ads to your interests, use Incognito mode on Chrome, or use any of the other privacy tools we offer.
  • We’re not collecting more data about you. Our new policy simply makes it clear that we use data to refine and improve your experience on Google — whichever products or services you use. This is something we have already been doing for a long time.
  • We’re making things simpler and we’re trying to be upfront about it. Period.
  • You can use as much or as little of Google as you want. For example, you can have a Google Account and choose to use Gmail, but not use Google+. Or you could keep your data separate with different accounts — for example, one for YouTube and another for Gmail.

This, to us, is about as clear-cut as you can get. As Masiello pointed out, nothing has really changed. The only thing that’s different is people’s perception of what Google is, and what it is doing with the data it collects from you while singed into its services. In short, Google is still the company that makes money by serving specifically-targeted advertising that’s it’s always been.

If you don’t want Google to use the things you search for to serve targeted advertising, then simply log out of your Google account before looking things up. If that’s too extreme, we’ve outlined a number of ways to take more granular control over what data Google can and cannot collect from your online activities.

Despite this fact — that users can, actually, opt-out of being tracked by simply not being logged into Google while browsing the Web or YouTube — the outcry of bad business practices will not simply evaporate. People enjoy hating on Google — and for good reason; it owns and operates the primary gate to the Internet, and charges a toll in the form of personal information for those who wish to pass through it while logged into their account. Google has the power, in other words. And those in power are rightfully (and wrongfully) the target of mistrust.

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