So It Begins, the One-Size-Fits-All Google Privacy Policy

As you might know, Google has a lot of different products scattered around the web – Google Search, Gmail, YouTube, Google+, Google Calendar; the list goes on and on (don’t forget about Android!). For the most part, each one of those products or services featured its own privacy policy for many to gloss over. On March 1st, that changes – and if you’re one to skip over those privacy policies without a second thought, you might want to give this one a read. From that day forward, Google will implement one umbrella privacy policy across all of its products – and it’s one policy that many are thinking has very little to do with privacy as they value it.

It should be noted that Google Books, Google Wallet, and Google Chrome are all excluded from this policy, for various technical and regulatory reasons. For all other Google products, the tech giant will now collect and integrate all of your information in an effort to “make those services even better – to show you more relevant search results and ads, to help you connect with people or to make sharing with others quicker and easier.” What does that information include? Specifically, Google will share among its services the following (and more):

  • Device Information – This will include what hardware you are using, related model numbers, and mobile network information, including phone numbers of your Android-powered phones that you operate while using a Google account.
  • Log information – This will include your Google searches, first and foremost. This will also include your IP addresses, dates and duration of phone calls, and forwarding numbers. Personalized settings (like language settings) and cookies will also be shared as part of the new privacy policy.
  • Location information – This will pull location information from the GPS functionality of your phone. As you might have guessed, this in particular isn’t going over terribly well with very many people.

But, Google supposedly is doing it for the sake of the end user. That’s fascinating, considering how many of those users seem to want nothing to do with the policy in the slightest, based on the backlash from Internet users, regulators, and governments alike. The fact that there is no opting out of the new policy is making even more people call into question just how user-friendly this move really is. And, if the web’s collective cynicism is accurate, it would mark a huge and somewhat disturbing break in the company culture of Google, from one based on allegiance to the users to one based on allegiance to the (advertising) dollar.

It’s worth noting that most of this information Google already had easy access to – the change is not that Google is collecting this information, but that it is sharing it among all of its services and products uniformly. You would expect (or hope) that Google is taking all necessary precautions with your personal information, but the threat of a hack job is never totally outside of the realm of possibility. It’s also fair to note that that security danger is more of a dark reality of Internet use as a whole, rather than a hornet’s nest Google is uniquely kicking with this new policy. If you want more information about security of your information, Google gives a brief outline of the measures the company takes to secure information in the privacy policy itself.

And, to be fair to Google, there will be benefits to end users. Search results will be better tailored to you based on previous web habits (I won’t touch on more efficient targeted advertising – if that appeals to you, fair play, but I’m guessing most users aren’t exactly salivating at the prospect of anything ad related). Certain words and names will not be flagged by the spell checker if you use them frequently, as well. Google reassures users that their information will not be sold, and personally identifying information will not be available to advertisers.

The real concern over this policy, then, might boil down to that celebrated company culture of user support. Can Google make the argument that this will result in benefits to the end user? Sure. Can they make the argument that the changes were made for the sake of the end user primarily? That’s a much harder sell, especially when you consider that recent changes to Google’s search algorithm seems to give a decided advantage to Google+ pages, a move many think is cheapening Google’s flagship service for the sake of trying to prop up its challenger to the dominance of Facebook and Twitter in the realm of social media. After all, there are few things more attractive to a company than a high PageRank for their website. If it looks like that will be more easily obtained using Google+ than Facebook, companies will at the very least need to think long and hard about redirecting the bulk of their social media efforts from Facebook to Google+. That takes us back to those more efficient targeted ads that will come about as a result of the new privacy policy – another thing that will please Google’s advertising clients, but not necessarily their end users.

The vaunted company culture of being there for the little guy is running the risk of finally going the way of the hollow words that users always hear from “the bad guys.” It could be seen as a breach of trust, and it raises an interesting question – does Google even need to care about that trust anymore? Or is it so well ingrained into our lives on the Internet that we have little choice but to play by their rules, no matter what those rules might be? Google has told users that the only way to opt out of the new privacy policy is to delete their Google accounts completely. It almost sounds like a dare – it will be interesting to see how many people accept come March 1st.

Via the Washington Post

Google’s Privacy Policy




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