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Google’s New Privacy Policy: A Rundown

Unless you’ve been avoiding the internet completely for the last month or so you probably know that Google’s new privacy policy goes into effect today. We’ve been covering this story since Googl...
Google’s New Privacy Policy: A Rundown
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  • Unless you’ve been avoiding the internet completely for the last month or so you probably know that Google’s new privacy policy goes into effect today. We’ve been covering this story since Google first announced the changes near the end of January. The changes have caused all sorts of controversy and drawn a lot of attention that Google would probably have preferred to avoid.

    >>> Check out WebProNews’ special page covering Google Privacy … updated live. Subscribe to the Google Privacy RSS feed too!

    For those of you who haven’t been paying a whole lot of attention to Google’s privacy changes, here’s a basic rundown of the story so far:

    What Google’s Doing:

    The short answer is that Google is replacing the individual privacy policies for their 60+ services with one policy that covers all things Google. The policy is meant to be a simple, unified, easy-to-understand statement about what sort of data Google collects and what it does with it. The goal of the policy, according to a post on Google’s blog today, is to make it easier for you to see the kind of content you want to see on one Google service – say, YouTube – based on your activity on Google’s other services – say, search or Google+. That, however, means that under the new policy Google will be combining the data it has gathered from users’ various accounts. Having the information you put into any of Google’s service accessible to all of Google’s services makes it easier for Google to customize your experience.

    The Response:

    It’s that last bit – the part about combining users’ data – that has caused the uproar, though. Privacy advocates are concerned that the new policy presents a threat to consumer privacy. They fear that Google will gain too much access to users’ personal information if they are allowed to aggregate what they already know about users into one place. Moreover, they are concerned that by the fact that users cannot opt out of the unification. The only way to prevent seeing Gmail ads based on your YouTube search history, for example, is to sign out of your Google account completely when you’re on YouTube.

    Shortly after it was announced, Google’s new privacy policy began drawing attention from regulators. Just a few days after the policy was announced, Google was obliged to send a letter to Congress explaining the new policy. Around the same time, the European Union sent a letter to Google expressing concern over the policy and asking Google to delay the rollout. Google responded that while they appreciated the EU’s concerns, they would make the policy change as scheduled on March 1st.

    Google’s troubles didn’t end there, though. In Early February privacy watchdog EPIC filed suit against the Federal Trade Commission in Federal Court in an attempt to force the agency to block the new privacy policy. EPIC argued that the policy violated a 2011 consent order preventing Google from combining user data. The FTC responded that it was not EPIC’s place to tell the FTC what to enforce, and the court agreed. Nevertheless, FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said on Tuesday that the policy was “brutal,” and that it left consumers with little choice about how their data is handled.

    Controversy notwithstanding, Google has gone ahead with the changes to their privacy policy. The new policy went into effect today, despite continued concern from various quarters – including the Japanese government, and a lot of users on Twitter.

    What You Can Do About It:

    As previously mentioned, opting out of the new unified privacy policy is not possible. There are, however, a few steps you can take if you’re not comfortable with the changes. The first – and the one suggested most often by Google – is to simply sign out of your Google account. Google doesn’t collect any information on users who aren’t signed in, and they can’t use the data they glean from YouTube, Google+, Gmail, or any of their other services if you aren’t actually signed in. That, of course, is not a tenable solution for many, but there are other options. The most extreme, of course, is to abandon Google completely. There are several alternatives out there for services that are like Google’s without actually being Google. Finally, it turns out that although you can’t opt out of the privacy changes, you can exercise a fair amount of control over what data Google collects and what they do with it. It turns out there are several options in your Google Account settings that let you make decisions on several of the very kinds of personalization features that Google is seeking to unify with the new privacy policy.

    In all likelihood, Google’s new privacy policy isn’t actually something you should be all that worried about. When you get right down to it, all Google is doing is combining all the data they already had about you into one place. Whether that’s something you really need to worry about is up for debate.

    What do you think? Is all the controversy over the Google’s new privacy policy really warranted? Let us know in the comments.

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