The Hippo


Apr 20, 2014








What’s private again?
Consolidated Google policy aims for simplicity

There was a time when Google was just the new search engine on the block. Maybe if you were really dorky you used it, but more likely you hit up AltaVista or Yahoo!

No more. Google now has dozens of services, from e-mail and office suites to maps and deal-hunting. It’s hard to get through a day on the Web without bumping into Google somewhere. It’s even hard for Google to avoid bumping into Google, at least as far as all its terms and conditions are concerned.

If you’re posting a video at Google+ and YouTube, it’s logical that the same legal and privacy protections apply at both places, right? For most part, they do, but to clear up any confusion, Google is consolidating more than 60 privacy policies into a single document covering just about all its services. Makes sense if it’s driving its users toward more integration.

The change goes into effect on March 1, giving us plenty of time to pick apart Google’s promotion efforts and the actual text of the new policy. Google sells it, of course, as making things easier for you. Your preferences and likes — sorry, your +1s — are taken into account when you search the Web; the recent locations logged by your Android phone influence the ads Google serves up. Most of the integration is based on your being logged into your account.

Of course, that makes it difficult to sign up for just a single Google service, like e-mail, without automatically having blogging, social networking and scheduling identities. In theory, you can segregate them somewhat using Google Dashboard.

It’s easy to get creeped out by the “How we use information we collect” section of the new privacy policy. They might, maybe, change your name on one product so it’s consistent with every other Google product you use, because why would you represent yourself differently depending on the service? That’d be like wearing different clothes at work and at a party. Nuts. And they “may” combine personal information between services.

The “Information we share” section is also worth examining. Of course law enforcement can get just about anything it wants, but so can “companies, organizations or individuals outside of Google” if they have a “good-faith belief” that it’s necessary. Google also shares some of your stats in a way that doesn’t tie to you personally; for example, if 5,000 people searched for “rhinoceros” today, and you were one of them, well, they counted you. Services like Google Trends make the numbers, but not the people, public.

On the whole, the policy does seem to reflect practices that were in place already; it’s now just in one place. The only exceptions called out are the Chrome browser, Chrome OS, Google Books and Google Wallet. There are all kinds of regulations a financial service like Wallet has to comply with, and Books is involved in complicated copyright and licensing matters. The Chrome products, well, they’re just so much more intricate than most of the company’s Web-based services. The policies for these exceptions are linked at the bottom of the main privacy policy.

The whole policy, as well as clarifying documents, is available right from Google’s home page. You can have Google delete your account, but you only have a month to decide before the new policies take effect. Get reading!

There’s a fine line between privacy and TMI at

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