Google Makes Big Changes to its Privacy Policy

The company whose mantra is “do no evil” has been accused this week of doing evil when it announced some big changes to its privacy policy. The controversial changes mean that Google will get rid of over 60 different privacy policies across the company and replace them with one. There are two reasons for concern. Firstly Google will now monitor and collate user activity across all of its major Web services including YouTube, Gmail, and its search engine. The videos you watch, the things you search for and your email will all be cross-referenced and analysed by Google, who are now basically spying on you.  “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. The second concern is that there is no opt-out except to either a) stop using Google products all together or b) sign-in and sign-out every time you move from say Gmail to YouTube or YouTube to Google Search, so that Google can’t track your movements.

Microsoft has been quick to comment on these new changes (as they want users to move over to their products). “The changes Google announced make it harder, not easier, for people to stay in control of their own information,” said Frank Shaw Corporate Vice President for Corporate Communications at Microsoft, in a blog post. “We take a different approach–we work to keep you safe and secure online, to give you control over your data, and to offer you the choice of saving your information on your hard drive, in the cloud, or on both.”

Of course, Google has been collecting this information all along, however this is the first time that it will start combining the data across its services to create a full profile of each of its millions of users. However the problem is that there is no way that we can really comprehend the implications of Google collecting all this data across all of its services. Will the profile it builds about you include  information about your health, political opinions, religion and financial concerns? Is the giant computer system portrayed in the popular Person of Interest TV show starting to become a reality?

The irony here is that according to Google’s Privacy principles users have the right to make meaningful choices to protect their privacy – “People have different privacy concerns and needs. To best serve the full range of our users, Google strives to offer them meaningful and fine-grained choices over the use of their personal information.” This is no longer true with the new Privacy Policy. There are no meaningful choices other than yes or no and there is certainly no fine-grained control of any sort.

However there is something positive to say about Google’s latest privacy move, it does simplify everything. Who had the time, energy or experience to read 60 different privacy policies? Now there is just one. And in all fairness Google have tried to write it in a simple to understand manner. Of course that doesn’t mean it is a good policy!

You can preview the changes here. Google’s new Privacy Policy will take effect from March 1, 2012.

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