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Google's revised privacy policy not sitting well with some

27 January 2012

Google announced earlier this week that it would revise its privacy policy and terms of use, consolidating 60 privacy policies across multiple products into one mega-policy. Sounds like a good idea, right? Not so fast.

To implement the one privacy policy, Google will track users across all services and will share that information across those products. “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”, wrote Alma Whitten, director of privacy, product and engineering at Google, in a blog.

If you are feeling squeamish about that sort of tracking, too bad. You can’t opt out of this tracking if you want to use Google’s products. As Christopher Brook noted in a Threat Post blog, you can always take your information “elsewhere.”

Google argues that the information consolidation will help it serve users better by, for example, sending you “more relevant ads.”

“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”, Whitten writes.

Gizmodo’s Mat Honan, for one, is none too happy with the changes: “Google's privacy policies have been shifting towards sharing data across services, and away from data compartmentalization for some time. It's been consistently de-anonymizing you, initially requiring real names with Plus, for example, and then tying your Plus account to your Gmail account. But this is an entirely new level of sharing. And given all of the negative feedback that it had with Google+ privacy issues, it's especially troubling that it would take actions that further erode users' privacy.”

And Lisa Vaas wrote on Sophos' Naked Security blog: "Did we really think Google was purely interested in its customers' well-being, even after the company was fined $500 million for allowing Canadian pharmacies to use its Adwords system to market pharmaceuticals to American consumers?"

The new privacy policy and consolidated data tracking is set to take effect March 1. So we will see then whether the privacy changes will bring a new era in which Google will do all the “heavy lifting” for us or whether the company will track our every move and send us breakfast cereal ads while we are eating. Probably something in between.
 

This article is featured in:
Compliance and Policy  •  Internet and Network Security

 

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