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Google's Policy Changes – What Do They Mean for You?

For a while it’s been known that Google was about to consolidate its privacy policies into one large, all-encompassing policy. On 1st March 2012 these changes went into effect.

In a nutshell, what do the changes mean? Basically it means that Google will now share the data it stores for you between all their services. They won’t be sharing anything new with outside parties; just among Google’s many services. Google has been adamant these changes are only being made to make their products better than ever and display even more relevant content and advertising to each personal user.

Alma Whitten, Google’s Director of Privacy, wrote in a blog post recently:

“As you use our products one thing will be clear: it’s the same Google experience that you’re used to, with the same controls, and because we’re making these changes, over time we’ll be able to improve our products in ways that help our users get the most from the web.”

Alma outlined out 3 important points to keep in mind regarding these changes.

• Google’s Privacy Policy is now much easier to understand.

• Google’s Privacy Policy will enable them to build a better, more intuitive user experience across Google for signed-in users.

• Google’s privacy controls aren’t changing.

Pablo Chavez, Google’s Director of Public Policy also discussed in a January post five things that aren’t changing.

• Google will still keep your private information private — they’re not changing the visibility of any information you have stored with Google.

• Google will still allow you to do searches, watch videos on YouTube, get driving directions on Google Maps, and perform other tasks without signing into a Google Account.

• Google is still offering you choice and control through privacy tools like Google Dashboard and Ads Preferences Manager that help you understand and manage your data.

• Google still won’t sell your personal information to advertisers.

• Google is still offering data liberation if you’d prefer to close your Google Account and take your data elsewhere.

It must be said that Google did a fantastic job on trying to usher this in quietly. They hammered home that these changes are being made to simplify things. For most people this is good enough to satisfy them. The average person on the street might not know (or care) but there is no question that many people are concerned. The changes have drawn the attention of many privacy watchdogs. The Japanese and EU governments have also expressed concerns. A member the FairSearch Coalition (which is made up of Google competitors), sent a letter to the National Association of Attorneys General expressing concerns with the changes.

Privacy issues around Google’s past are only fueling the fire of controversy and adding strength to claims this is a huge deal. Stuff-ups like the recent story around Safari and the launch of Google Buzz a couple years ago have tended to stick in people’s heads.

But despite the warnings will the changes really affect you? Is it really as big an issue as some media are suggesting?

What you need to know is that Google is not collecting more information, just using it in a different way.

There is a huge misconception that Google will suddenly have access to information it didn’t have before. That is incorrect. In reality Google has always collected your data for all of its services. They’ve been using that data to personalize your experience already, and isn’t it a great service?

All that changes now is that data collected from your activity across their services, say between YouTube and Google Search, will be used to provide a further personalized experience across all of their products.

You Will be Tracked. No Matter What You Do

Up to today many tech experts have suggested you should clear your Google Web History to boost your privacy. But it’s become clear now that this is not going to stop Google from collecting your personal data. You can clear and stop the tracking of your activity, but you’ll only prevent Google using that collected data with your Google account, it won’t stop Google from tracking your web activity. Your searches will still be followed and stored on their servers, even if you’re not signed in. The information can still be used to build a profile about you and will allow Google to sell ads that are specifically tailored to you.

Is It Really a Big Deal?

Some privacy experts are outraged while others exclaim, “Who Cares?” Both are right.

Many think that this isn’t a big deal. Google is collecting the same information that it always has and it’s just being used now to improve the user’s experience. Who cares if the data is used for advertisements? You will always see ads, but now the advertisements will be closer to your interests. Google needs to make monéy from advertisements, so from my point of view they might as well be accurate.

On the other hand, privacy experts and lawmakers are up in arms about the policy. It is a gray area. The United States has very few laws about the collection, use, and distribution of user data.

The US Government has proposed a consumers ‘privacy bill of rights’ that will protect people, allowing them to decide what information is collected about them, and how this information is used. But as it stands no current laws can stop Google’s unified privacy policy.

Can I Do Anything?

Well you can just stop using Google services… Good luck, in today’s world this would be almost impossible!

You can however, follow some simple tips to minimize how much data is collected about you, such as performing searches on Google without signing in.

About The Author
Article by Karl Rooney, managing director of Online Expression.

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