Google Privacy Changes: What Do They Mean To You?

    January 26, 2012
    Chris Crum

Google announced this week that it is rolling out a new, main privacy policy that covers the majority of its products. The company is consolidating over 60 privacy notices into the main privacy policy. It’s keeping a few separate for “legal and other reasons”.

Do you think Google’s privacy strategy is good or bad? Let us know in the comments.

“Regulators globally have been calling for shorter, simpler privacy policies—and having one policy covering many different products is now fairly standard across the web,” Google says.

Google users have been receiving emails about the changes:

Google Privacy Changes

You know that whole “Google+ is Google.” mantra? Essentially what the new privacy policy means is that Google+ is in fact Google. It also means that Gmail is Google. YouTube is Google. Essentially, it affirms what we’ve been saying for quite some time. Google is the product, and all of Google’s services are basically features of that product – the way Facebook is the product, and the news feed, photos, videos, chat, etc. are features of that product.

In Google’s case, this concept embodies the majority of its products – the ones that aren’t being kept separate for “legal and other reasons”.

“The main change is for users with Google Accounts,” explains Alma Whitten, Director of Privacy, Product and Engineering at Google. “Our new Privacy Policy makes clear that, if you’re signed in, we may combine information you’ve provided from one service with information from other services. In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.”

Whitten says Google’s “Search Plus Your World” (or SPYW) is a good example of what Google can do when its products are one. Not everyone agrees that that is a “good” example. In fact, the move has been highly controversial, as is the new approach to privacy.

“Today we can also do things like make it easy for you to read a memo from Google Docs right in your Gmail, or add someone from your Gmail contacts to a meeting in Google Calendar,” Whitten adds. “But there’s so much more that Google can do to help you by sharing more of your information with … well, you. We can make search better—figuring out what you really mean when you type in Apple, Jaguar or Pink.”

“We can provide more relevant ads too,” says Whitten. “For example, it’s January, but maybe you’re not a gym person, so fitness ads aren’t that useful to you. We can provide reminders that you’re going to be late for a meeting based on your location, your calendar and an understanding of what the traffic is like that day. Or ensure that our spelling suggestions, even for your friends’ names, are accurate because you’ve typed them before. People still have to do way too much heavy lifting, and we want to do a better job of helping them out.”

The changes go into effect on March 1.

What are the people saying?

Here are some quotes from a WebmasterWorld thread on the topic:

Wow – what are they smoking in Mountain View?

At best this will cause massive bad publicity at worst it could be the start of a slippery slope for Google. I think this one may even capture the general public’s attention.

Can’t opt out? People are going to bail out!

The question will be will gmail users opting in (to continue using the service)? How many are going to give up their established gmail accounts? I know many gmail users who do not use any other G products… and some with gmail that use bing for search. Will be interesting to see how this shakes out.

Some Twitter reaction:

Uploaded photo of myself in Speedo to comply with Google’s new privacy policy. 42 minutes ago via web · powered by @socialditto

re: Privacy; Google has been “tracking” us from day one. It just feels worse now because we use our real names online. 7 minutes ago via web · powered by @socialditto

Amazing to see the latest Google privacy policy changes. In terms of brand exercise it can only do more harm than good. 1 hour ago via Twitter for Mac · powered by @socialditto

As an admitted #Google cheerleader, I just can’t get into a froth yet over privacy changes; assumed this was the direction all along. 1 minute ago via web · powered by @socialditto

Two-thirds of users say they plan to cancel their Google account because of the new privacy policy — but will they? 1 hour ago via Safari on iOS · powered by @socialditto

Google dismisses criticism of its new privacy policy as “uninformed” & “overreaction”; also promote their new Google Android Endoscopy app. 2 hours ago via Buffer · powered by @socialditto

Just got the new “easier and shortened” #Google Privacy policy. It’s easy. “You have no privacy. Thank you.” 1 hour ago via TweetDeck · powered by @socialditto

Google+ Growth

The whole thing obviously bodes well for Google+ numbers. Google announced last week that Google+ has surpassed 90 million users. That’s a lot for the short time that’s been around, but it helps growth when it’s all tied to “the greater Google”. Sign up for a Google account now, and you’re signing up for Google+, Gmail, and nearly everything else.

That said, there are other forces at play for Google+ that could help that growth continue. It’s starting to break more into the mainstream. You have things like Anderson Cooper telling people to add him to their Circles. Remember when you first started to see TV shows tell people to follow them on Twitter? That helped Twitter immensely, no doubt. If more follow Cooper’s lead, that’s going to be huge for Google+. And with Google+‘s impact on search results, why wouldn’t more want to do this?

Anderson Cooper on <a href=Google+” src=”” title=”Anderson Cooper on Google+” class=”aligncenter” width=”616″ height=”406″ />

More celebrities are joining Google+ – another thing that helped Twitter gain steam. Lady Gaga, one of the biggest celebrities in pop culture, currently, just joined Google+ last week. Expect more and more to follow.

And of course, there’s good old fashioned advertising. Google, historically not a big television advertiser, is much more about some TV ads these days, including Google+ specific ads.

Competitive Strategy

We’ve written a number of times (including as recently as last week) about how much sense it would make for Facebook to get more into search to compete more directly with Google. Not just as a social network, but as a web company. It still makes sense, and perhaps even more so now that Google has made this new move with its privacy policy. What the policy has done has, for all intents and purposes, made Google one entity, rather than numerous products. One big fat rival to Facebook for users’ time spent online, user data and ultimately advertisers’ dollars spent trying to reach those users.

Facebook is amping up its advertising offerings in a number of ways ahead of its huge IPO. And on that note, John Battelle points out an interesting social ad strategy from Google, where AdSense ads are allowing people to share them back to Google+. Battelle writes:

Why am I on about this? Because some weeks ago, Facebook told a bunch of advertisers and third parties (FM was one of them) that it was no longer OK to integrate Facebook actions into third party advertisements. This was always in their policies, but everyone was pretty much ignoring it – including most of the largest advertisers on the planet. After all, it’d be pretty hard to tell major television advertisers to stop asking viewers to “Like us on Facebook”. But for some reason, Facebook recently decided enough was enough online, and won’t let folks do exactly the same thing – with interactive functionality – online. You won’t be seeing ads on any site that integrate Facebook Likes, Shares, or other verbs, unless the advertisers paying for those ads have cut special deals with Facebook. (Or, of course, unless Facebook launches its own ad network…)

Makes you wonder about the potential of such a network. A Facebook version of AdSense. They certainly have the data, and Facebook is certainly all over the web. We’ve written on this before in the past .

Some have pointed out that Google’s strategy has kind of an Apple feel to it, in terms of having more control over what users do on its various products, and making sure that users have a “beautiful” experience, as Larry Page put it. This is quite interesting, considering the way Google has portrayed itself as almost the anti-Apple (particularly with Android) in terms of being more “open” – a philosophy that has been criticized a great deal by pundits.

Apple’s monster quarter made Google’s disappointing quarter look bad.

Googlers jumping ship

But back to Facebook for a minute. There’s also the competition between these two companies at the talent level. Plenty of Googlers have jumped ship to Facebook. Others are finding other ways to go. We know SPYW isn’t sitting well with some former Googlers, and apparently it’s not with some current Googlers either, and according to a report from PandoDaily, Google CEO Larry Page has basically told those employees who have a problem with it to get out and not let the door hit them on the ass. According to one report, even Foursquare (who has in recent times expressed interest in working with Google) is poaching a fair amount of talent from the company.

Wrapping up

Google has taken some very interesting turns since Larry Page took over as CEO. Whether these turns are in the company’s (and users’) best interests in the long run remains to be seen. Either way, some of the choices Google has made have proven to be incredibly controversial both among users, and even with insiders. Many have expressed intentions of stopping their use of Google products. If too many decide to do this, it’s obviously going to be a problem. But how many Google users (and that’s users of any Google product) are really ready to stop using every single Google product? For some that’s going to be quite a change of lifestyle. There’s no question that those making complaints about Google’s businesses practices (as well as privacy watchdogs) are going to have a field day with this, whether Google is in the wrong or not.

Is Google in the wrong here? Tell us what you think.