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Google Privacy Change Provokes Outrage

One user profile and privacy policy to rule all of Google's services. Simple, or evil?

Google says it will soon alter its privacy policy and terms of service to reflect the fact that it is now combining data from its various services into a single user profile.

In blog post published Tuesday, Google privacy director for products and engineering Alma Whitten announced the upcoming change, characterizing it as a way for Google to offer a better user experience.

"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," Whitten explained. "In short, we'll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience."

By connecting data gathered from various services, Google might be able to target Google Offers based on where you use your Android phone or present ads influenced by information in Google Calendar entries, for example.

As a consequence of its user data unification, Google no longer needs the 60-plus different privacy policies it has maintained for its discrete products. It now has only one product, you, and so needs only one privacy policy and terms of service document to explain how it uses your data to improve its services and serve ads.

[ Google's competitors don't like the way Google is tying its services together. Read Google Foes Fighting Social Search Ignore One Truth. ]

For Google users, pretending to read only two tracts of legalese should be far less taxing than pretending to read several dozen.

Critics of the change have been quick to question Google's decision. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a blog post that he's troubled by the lack of an opt-out mechanism.

"The lack of opt-out means users cannot pick and choose which data they want integrated into their Google profiles," he wrote. "Private email messages might contain any number of personal, embarrassing, or otherwise damaging information, and Google's attempts to amplify and contextualize this information through targeted ads, Maps suggestions, or Calendar reminders could have negative consequences for users."

In a phone interview, David Jacobs, consumer protection fellow at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), acknowledged the benefits of privacy policy simplification and consolidation, but said that Google's changes decrease the ability of users to control how their personal information is being used.

"Before, you could choose to disclose information with one Google service and not with another," he said. "And this information wouldn't all be combined into a single profile of who you are. Now that's no longer the case."

Jacobs pointed to the inclusion of Android smartphone data as the most significant change in terms of user expectations.

Security researcher Matt Blaze offered his own interpretation of Google's announcement on Twitter: "'Be Evil' is a simplified and easier to understand version of 'Don't be Evil.'"

But the message heard by hundreds of millions of people who participate willingly in free social networks and avail themselves of free communications tools and online services is likely to be "Paid For By Your Data."

It's no longer a matter of if you get hacked, but when. In this special retrospective of news coverage, Monitoring Tools And Logs Make All The Difference, Dark Reading takes a look at ways to measure your security posture and the challenges that lie ahead with the emerging threat landscape. (Free registration required.)

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User Rank: Apprentice
1/25/2012 | 8:38:04 PM
re: Google Privacy Change Provokes Outrage
All of this will lead me to use 2 browsers, perhaps I use crome for all email, webmaster tools etc. and use another browser for all my google searchs etc.
User Rank: Apprentice
3/1/2012 | 6:14:38 PM
re: Google Privacy Change Provokes Outrage
here is the way to beat it. vote with your feet, don't use google, when they get a lot less hits there ad. fees go down and they will change or die.plenty of other sites out there.
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