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New Google Privacy Policy Combines User Data From All Google Services

Danny Goodwin
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google-services-plus-youA new unified Google privacy policy is coming in March. The big change: Google clearly states that it will combine information from signed-in users from one product to other Google products in order to show more relevant search results and ads.

As Google explains:

“The main change is for users with Google Accounts. 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.”

Google is reducing more than 60 privacy policies for all its products (e.g., search, YouTube, Gmail, Calendar), down to one main “simplified” easy-to-read policy as of March 1. This is another step by Google as it moves toward creating “one beautifully simple, intuitive user experience across Google” that has been slowly happening since the launch of Google+.

Google began alerting users yesterday with a message on Google’s home page, “We’re changing our privacy policy and terms. Not the usual yada yada.”

The only products that seem to have their own product-specific privacy policy are Chrome and Chrome OS (“to explain our privacy practices specific to those products in more detail”), Books, and Google Wallet (because it’s “regulated by industry-specific privacy laws and require detailed descriptions of our practices”).

Google also won't "combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in consent."

You can view the new privacy policy and terms and conditions on Google’s Policies & Principles site

Does This Affect Google Analytics?

One exception to the updated policy can be found on Google Analytics. You will continue to be able to control how much data you share with Google via data sharing settings, which allows you to share data with Google products, anonymously with Google and others, or not at all.

“The only change for Google Analytics users under the new privacy policy is that now, information about how you interact with the Google Analytics interface may be shared with our other products,” according to Paul Muret, Director of Engineering, Google Analytics.

The Mobile Search Solution?

Besides Google+ and social search, one of Google’s major focuses is mobile. Mobile searches only continue to grow with greater smartphone adoption.

However, as this BI Intelligence post notes, mobile searches are less profitable than desktop searches. While the article says this isn’t likely to change, perhaps this privacy policy is one step toward fixing the mobile “maturity” problem of lower keyword prices.

If Google can share more data across more platforms, that means Google can make mobile search work better and fix a fragmented area that is hurting its overall search business.

Google: Come to the Dark Side... We Have Cookies!

As with any change at Google, privacy concerns were quickly highlighted (Ireland and France are already assessing the new policy change, notes Bloomberg). Some are even going so far as to suggest Google should stop using its “don’t be evil” motto (that one former CEO Eric Schmidt said was misunderstood).

"At a time when the European Commission is proposing to significantly enhance the protection of consumer privacy, Google need to be absolutely transparent about the data they capture and how it is used," Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties group Big Brother Watch told V3.co.uk. "This goes beyond search and includes email scanning, location data from phones and Google +1 activity. Only when consumers have confidence in what data Google is collecting and using will simplified policies not be seen as an attempt to avoid scrutiny."

Has Google gone too far to the dark side?

“Google’s new privacy announcement is frustrating and a little frightening,” Common Sense Media chief executive James Steyer told the Washington Post. “Even if the company believes that tracking users across all platforms improves their services, consumers should still have the option to opt out — especially the kids and teens who are avid users of YouTube, Gmail and Google Search.”

Note to Mr. Steyer: they do have the right to opt out. It’s called using another website or not signing in.

The key to this privacy policy is that you are providing everything Google knows about you. And Google is telling you right up front about it.

As for “kids”, Google requires users to be 13 or older in the U.S. to create a Google account, while Google+ users must be 18 or older.

“There is no way anyone expected this,” Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy advocacy group, also told the Washington Post. “There is no way a user can comprehend the implication of Google collecting across platforms for information about your health, political opinions and financial concerns.”

Calm down. There are numerous free alternatives for search engines, email, video, maps, and other products Google offers. Or, maybe, you could make two or three different Google accounts if you're so worried or you simply don't want to transfer data from one service to another.

As Google told ZDNet, Google has been collecting all this data for years, “but it’s now integrating that information across products. It’s a change in how Google will use the data not what it collects."

Also, as Forbes points out, as far back as 2005, Google has said “We may combine the information you submit under your account with information from other Google services or third parties in order to provide you with a better experience and to improve the quality of our services.”

Will Google Cross the (Creepy) Line?

Creepy? Sure. But this is from a company that, according to Schmidt, “is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”

Serendipitous search is where Google is going. And that’s exactly what this quote, from the same Washington Post story, sounds like Google is moving closer toward:

"The move will help Google better tailor its ads to people’s tastes. If someone watches an NBA clip online and lives in Washington, the firm could advertise Washington Wizards tickets in that person’s Gmail account.

Consumers could also benefit, the company said. When someone is searching for the word 'jaguar,' Google would have a better idea of whether the person was interested in the animal or the car. Or the firm might suggest e-mailing contacts in New York when it learns you are planning a trip there."

Should you trust Google to not cross that line? Well, perhaps in your mind they already have. Just remember, Google has been much more than a search engine for years now. Ultimately, Google is an advertising company driven by making money, and users are the product they’re selling to advertisers.

For anybody following Google, this shouldn’t be shocking, especially with increasing legal and antitrust scrutiny from governments and privacy bodies around the world.

It wasn’t too long ago that the FTC said Google violated its privacy policies when it launched Google Buzz “by using information provided for Gmail for another purpose - social networking - without obtaining consumers’ permission in advance.” That can’t be said anymore. Google is telling everyone when they sign up that any information they submit to Google while logged in can be used with other Google services.

Also Google has made no secret that it wants people to be “more logged into Google” – even before the launch of Google+.

Perhaps the real creepy factor you should be worried about is Google’s growing relationship with the government. There’s also the question of what happens if your unified Google account gets hacked.

Again, however, Google is optional. You may leave at any time and choose not to put all your eggs in their basket.

What do you think of this new privacy change?


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