Google privacy change draws 'firestorm'

Analysts explain the breadth of the Google data collection plan and how users can avoid it

Analysts are split on how Google's new privacy rules, which went into effect on Thursday, will affect users -- and ultimately the company itself.

The rewritten and unified privacy policy, now the law of the Internet company's land, lets Google combine data from most Google services.

Google has been notifying users about the impending change since late January via email announcements and notices on its search pages.

Google contends that the new rules don't veer from previous privacy policies. The company says the changes make it easier for users to see what information the company has collected about them while they use Google's free search engine, Gmail service, maps, browser and Android-based smartphones.

The company also notes that users still have control over how they use Google's online services and that private user information remains private.

Critics, however, say the new privacy policy gives Google free rein to parse together a user's personal information to find out what she is interested in, who she talks to, where she goes and, basically, who she is.

"You don't have to be a weatherman to predict that this move by Google is going to cause a firestorm of controversy," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group.

"Just so far today, the first day of the new policy, we already have 36 U.S. state Attorney Generals weighing in with a strongly worded letter, and a pan-European privacy commission starting up an investigation. As details start to emerge, I think that the fire is just going to burn brighter," Olds added.

On Thursday, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding announced that privacy agencies in European countries have concluded that Google's new privacy policy violates European laws.

France's data protection watchdog, the Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertes (CNIL), announced this week that it had asked Google to postpone the new policy.

The CNIL also said it is willing to take the lead in an investigation into the legality of Google's new privacy policy. The agency said its preliminary research found that Google's new policy fails to meet the requirements of the European Data Protection Directive.

Google's new privacy rules consolidate the the bulk of policies it had into one policy, the company said. It combined more than 60 of 70-plus policies into a new main policy.

Google also said it has cut down on the Google Terms of Service and made them easier to read.

Google has been compiling information from users of its different services, like Gmail and Calendar, for some time. The new policy is different in that it includes user information across all products and services.

Critics were quick to complain that Google wasn't giving users an opt-out option for this consolidation of data. Instead, the company said if users didn't like their data being combined across services, they could simply stop using those services.

In this slideshow, Google shows users how to protect their privacy while using Google apps and tools. (Source: Google)

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