Google's new privacy policy: Checking the source

I've been reading a great many opinions of Google's new privacy policy from bloggers, journalists and friends, and currently I have to say I'm concerned -- but not sure quite yet how concerned. Is Google's new strategy of replacing separate policies for each application with one shorter policy -- one which allows them to share our data across all those applications with no way to opt out short of pulling out of Google's ecosystem completely -- simply a matter of adding user (and vendor) convenience, or a gross violation of our privacy? And if the latter, is it so egregious that those of us who are invested in that ecosystem should consider pulling out?

This last option -- which is currently the only one available to those who truly object to Google's new policy -- could be very difficult, especially for Android users. And most especially for those who have recently invested in Samsung's Galaxy Nexus smartphone, which is pretty much useless outside of the Google netverse.

I must admit, the idea of being completely unable to opt out of specific privacy issues has me very troubled. My immediate reaction is to read Google's policies, check out some of the more knowledgeable commentators on the subject, and if I find that I do agree with those privacy activists who believe that Google has stepped too far over the line, to join those hoping to pressure the company to alter its new policy.

Meanwhile, I think that the first thing to do is go to the source. And so, if you're also trying to figure out where you stand on the issue, here are links to Google's new policy -- and the marketing it's doing to make its users understand and/or accept it.

  • Google's new Privacy Policy will go into effect on March 1, 2012. It specifies what information Google collects, how it uses that information (including combining "personal information from one service with information, including personal information, from other Google services"), the control users have over their information (such as editing ads preferences or controlling whom the information is shared with -- by which Google no doubt means other users), accessing and updating personal information, and which information Google will share.

    The only applications that will not be part of this policy is Chrome and Chrome OS, Books and Wallet.

  • Google Terms of Service, which will also go into effect on March 1, 2012, includes the clause "Google's privacy policies explain how we treat your personal data and protect your privacy when you use our Services. By using our Services, you agree that Google can use such data in accordance with our privacy policies."

  • There is a general explanation of Google's policies and principles, which includes an overview and an FAQ. The latter states explicitly, "If you continue to use Google services after March 1, you'll be doing so under the new Privacy Policy and Terms of Service."  

  • Finally, a link to a page called Good to Know, which has information about Google's use of data and online safety in general in very user-friendly (as in: illustrated with cute cartoons) terms.

There are also two animated videos on Google's privacy policies. The first is an older one, uploaded last October, that talks generally about Google's "5 Privacy Principles":

The second, uploaded on January 24, 2012, explains the new privacy policy:

Google's applications and products have become an important resource for a large number of people. Their new policy has just been announced, and has over a month to be put into effect. Things can go several ways at this point: Google could simply stick to its guns and hope that the resulting fallout will only be a bit of bad publicity and a relatively few lost users. But if enough Google users become uneasy, Google could back off (the way Facebook has several times over the last few years), at least in its "all or nothing" opt-out policy. It will be interesting to watch.

Barbara Krasnoff is reviews editor at Computerworld. When she isn't either editing or reviewing, she blogs at The Interesting Bits ... and Bytes; you can also follow her on Twitter (@BarbaraKrasnoff).

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