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January 30, 2012

Google’s New Privacy Policy 101: You In or Out?

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Estimated reading time:
5 minutes

Audience:
All Google Users

Top takeaways:
• Google’s new privacy policy and terms of service goes into effect March 1.
• The data that Google collects has not changed, but the way it will use it will change.
• Taking the time to adjust privacy settings gives users more control, but still may leave many confused.

Have you taken a moment to read about Google’s new privacy policy and how it affects the information you share, effective March 1?

Privacy policies and terms of service aren’t exactly riveting literature, so if you haven’t rushed into cuddling up with the thing and getting to know it better, I don’t blame you. So, I thought I’d take a few minutes to give an overview of what it is and the important takeaways.

In sum, Google’s new privacy policy is essentially a way for Google to try and ensure there won’t be mass public freak-outs or lawsuits over the new “Search, plus Your World” function, as well as more and more personalized search results to come.

And as much as Google is trying to make this information public and available to its users, let’s be real, freak-outs will still ensue.

This is why Google had to come up with this very straightforward, easy-to-read policy because on March 1, it’s Google’s way or the highway. To be fair, Google says it’s still collecting the same information as it always has. It’s just being used in new ways. And, according to Google, you still have the same liberties to control privacy.

Google has promised that whenever it makes significant changes, it will do its best to let users know exactly what those are so users aren’t blind-sighted. Does this mean people are going to read it? No. Does it mean people still won’t freak-out? No. But Google is doing its due diligence with spreading the word, see?

Google Privacy

And:

Google Privacy 2

And:

Google Privacy 3

Trust me, I wasn’t super enthusiastic about reading it either, but I wanted to get an overview I could share with you, so let’s explore some of the concepts behind Google’s new privacy policy to get a birds-eye view.

New Privacy Policy is Armor for Search + Your World & Things to Come

Google works in mysterious ways … OK, I take that back, Google tends to work in methodical, strategic ways. And if you’ve been following Google long enough, you begin to see patterns of how they roll things out, and how each individual feature or product fits into the big picture.

If you haven’t taken the time to familiarize yourself with the new Search, plus Your World function, this is an important step in understanding some of the reasons behind the new privacy policy. The way the search results are changing with Search+ is going to cause some confusion. The new privacy policy is meant to provide some comfort around the new search results and spells out, in plain English, that if you choose to play in Google, you choose to play by its rules.

The new privacy policy is also meant to cover Google when it decides to roll out even more targeted search results to it users, including ads, many suspect. While some are very uncomfortable with Google using this information for advertising, others welcome more targeted ads. I tend to err on the side of the latter. If I’m inundated with ads on a daily basis anyway, they might as well be what I’m interested in. I wrote a post once on why online ads suck less than other forms of advertisement. Check it out.

But, I suppose it’s not the ads that are the problem, it’s people and entities knowing stuff about you that you may not want publicized … but then we have to go back to the idea that if you don’t want something publicized, don’t share it online. It’s kind of a vicious cycle. People want to be able to participate in this thing called the World Wide Web, but then they also want the same anonymity in the virtual world as the have in the more-private physical world. This is just not possible.

One of the examples Google gives in its privacy policy FAQs on potential ways it could personalize information using data from multiple Google accounts is the following:

“Maybe we can tell you that you’ll be late for a meeting based on your location, your calendar and the local traffic conditions.”

Helpful, yes. Creepy? Kinda. But, to reinforce what Google is trying to convey:  it’s not any information Google wasn’t already gathering from you.

Google’s New Privacy Policy Says Not Much Has Changed

According to Google, not much has changed. Let’s go over some of the things Google says is the same in its new privacy policy:

  • Privacy principles remain unchanged. Google’s privacy principles tell us how it approaches privacy and user information across all products. It also says users still have the option to manage individual data through Google Dashboard and ad preferences.
  • No more new data collected than prior. Again, Google is reinforcing that the data is not different, the way it uses the data is.

In Google’s policies and principals FAQs, it answers the following question: Under the new Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, will my private information in Google services remain private?

“Yes. As before, we won’t share our users’ personal information without their permission except in very limited circumstances like a valid court order. For more detail, please read the section of the new Privacy Policy called ‘Information we share.’”

Following that link, we see a list of terms regarding how Google shares the information it collects. It says Google does not share personal information unless certain circumstances apply.

The first circumstance is “with your consent” and Google goes on to say that, “We will share personal information with companies, organizations or individuals outside of Google when we have your consent to do so. We require opt-in consent for the sharing of any sensitive personal information.”

The opt-in feature is only for what Google dubs “sensitive personal information” that contains things like medical facts, racial or ethnic origins, political or religious beliefs or sexuality. Outside of that, it seems using the new Google after March 1 essentially means you are agreeing to Google’s new terms of service, that is, giving Google permission to do with your data what it pleases (based on the privacy settings you have chosen).

What Has Changed in Google’s New Privacy Policy

Here’s what Google says has changed:

  • The readability factor of the privacy policy, including more clear language to ensure users understand that if they have a Google account and are signed in, Google may combine information across Google services you use to treat you “as a single user across all products.”
  • The readability factor of the terms and services, plus the condensation of many terms of service for many Google products and services into simpler terms that apply to its products and services across the board.

In sum, Google wants to combine the information it collects across the services you use in Google to make an uber-personalized experience for you while using Google. Members of congress aren’t so happy about this new privacy policy, as many of them question whether or not it violates an agreement set into place after a settlement over Google Buzz, stating Google violated its privacy policy by making it difficult for Gmail users to opt out of the Buzz social network.

Take Control with Your Privacy Settings & Through Knowledge

Here’s a couple simple ways you can control the way your data is used and understand what it’s all about:

  • Go to your Google Dashboard and manage the privacy settings for the individual Google services. Uh, remember when I said “simple” way to control data? Well, this is one of those get-a-cup-of-coffee-this-could-take-you-a-while tasks. But, it’s a great way to get acquainted with the information Google collects and how it fits into the big picture. Here’s a video to help you understand more about Dashboard:

  • And I hope you like reading, because Google says in its new privacy policy FAQs that another good way to understand how it uses data is through its “Good to Know” resource. In all fairness, Google does try to break it down in its most simple terms for the general public to understand. Those who are super concerned about privacy should take the time to understand how Google works.

Are You In or Are You Out?

Here’s how I see it: You have three choices under Google’s future of search:

  1. Go with it and ride the wave of personalization to have an extremely relevant search experience.
  2. Continue to use Google but control as much as possible what Google does with your information through privacy settings, thus impacting the full extent of personalization.
  3. Stop using Google.

The changes Google is making with its search functions will either invoke great praise or mass aversion by the public. Perhaps a more realistic view is that majority of the general public will probably not even notice or understand what’s really happening (and I don’t mean that in disrespect). Those who use search for leisure not business might be pleasantly surprised at the new results or totally baffled. Either way, many will just go with it.

It makes me wonder though if this most recent change by Google finally opens the door to other “little search engines that could” finally making their way into mainstream usage. Will this new personalization turn off enough people to make an impact on Google’s market share or will it simply make our lives easier through these new online experiences?

What’s your take? Tell us in the comments below!

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One response to “Google’s New Privacy Policy 101: You In or Out?”

  1. seogear writes:

    I do not think need to be afraid of Google Innovations. All will benefit, especially regular users.



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