IT Security & Network Security News & Reviews: Google Privacy Policies Rile Users, Regulators With Zero Opt-Out

 
 
By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2012-01-25
 
 
 

One Account to Rule Them All

"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," wrote Alma Whitten, the director of privacy, product and engineering who is leading the policy changes. For more information, watch this video.

One Account to Rule Them All

What Does This Mean

The new Google Search, plus your world (SPYW), shown here, exemplifies the practice tweak. With SPYW, the search box now includes information from users Google+ social network posts and photos. "So if I search for restaurants in Munich, I might see Google+ posts or photos that people have shared with me, or that are in my albums," Whitten noted. "Today we can also do things like make it easy for you to read a memo from Google Docs right in your Gmail, or add someone from your Gmail contacts to a meeting in Google Calendar."

What Does This Mean

Want to Leave?

Leaving Google just got a little tougher. Because Google is treating users as one individual across all products, users will essentially have to close their Google account if they don't like the change.

Want to Leave?

Chrome, Google Wallet

Of course, there are some Google apps that don't fall under the overarching privacy banner. Accordingly, these apps retain separate product privacy policies. These include Google Wallet, which has become the single payment platform for Google services, the Chrome browser and Google Books.

Chrome, Google Wallet

Public Outrage Over Personal Data Aggregation

Naturally, some Google users are angry about the changes, which they view as Google taking extreme liberties with their data. Gizmodo's Mat Honan sounded this battle cry.

Public Outrage Over Personal Data Aggregation

Googles Own Words

Honan isn't just spouting off. He noted that Google appears to be flouting its own principles about not holding personal information "hostage." By making it impossible for users to opt out of most Google services because of their association to one single Google account, the search engine appears to be coming really close to the data hijacking line.

Googles Own Words

Google's Side of the Story

But wait-there are two sides to every story. Forbes blogger Kashmir Hill claims Google hasnt altered its privacy policies so much as its practices. It's a fine line, but the proof exists. Google keeps an archive of its privacy policies. Hill dug out this gem that shows how at least as far back as 2005, Google awarded itself the ability to cross-reference data across its multiple Web services: "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." In other words, it isn't entirely new: Google is just getting around to it now to bolster Google+.

Google's Side of the Story

Google Data Dashboard

Here's another example of how Google has been moving toward this unified identity goal: the Google Dashboard, which provides on one page data users generate in Google services.

Google Data Dashboard

Why Is This Happening?

What is pushing Google to do this? Advertising and Facebook. While this unification of Google search, Gmail, YouTube and other services under one identity may be beneficial for comprehensive users, it will also significantly enhance Google's ability to target users with ads. Thank Google+ for providing the identity glue to weave this all together. Google+ has more than 90 million registered users. If those users regularly share information with each other, it will enhance the Search, plus your world feature's results. The more Google knows about each user from personal results, which users have given Google implicit permission to use by using Google+ and searching Google.com, the better Google can refine its ad-serving capabilities. Why does Google need to improve its social ad targeting? Because Facebook is already doing exactly this. As a result, Facebook is crushing all comers, including Google, in user engagement. This means users are spending more time on Facebook and seeing more ads, which allows Facebook to make more money.

Why Is This Happening?

Google Takeout

Don't like what all of this data wrangling is doing? As we noted earlier, you can close out your Google account and take your data with you. Google Takeout lets users "liberate" or export their data.

Google Takeout

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