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A Personal Take on Google’s Single Privacy Policy

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Beyond the media’s attention on the Facebook IPO there has also been a major announcement by Google detailing the overhaul and unification of their privacy policy.

As a user of any Google products you are likely to have either been sent an un-personalised standard email message or upon login you’ve been displayed a message in your browser like the one below, directing you to Google’s "One policy, one Google experience" web-page:

As Google has grown it has developed new products and acquired businesses. The result being that practically every product had its own terms and privacy policy. Policies varied from one product to the next and it became confusing for both the end user and Google about what could and couldn’t be done with your data. To resolve the situation Google is now attempting to merge 60 (out of 70) separate privacy policies into 1 policy. At the same time it is commendably trying to reduce the complexity of the terms so users can actually understand them.

As Google struggles to bring its product into ‘one-world’ it needs a unified approach to both privacy and usability to produce a simpler, more intuitive Google experience. My question however, is about their motivation. I can certainly see the benefits of accessing multiple products using one login (but then I could do that already), this feels like Google is wanting to deliver more personalised marketing to users across multiple products, taking advantage of information gained across their product range.

I consider myself to be fairly private online, so any erosion of this privacy does tend to grab my attention. If Google hadn’t drawn these changes to my attention I would have been blissfully unaware of the privacy policies, mainly because the products I have been using are not ‘social’ – I have used the Google docs tools for productivity and Gmail for one-to-one private communication although I have not actively used their Google Circles products to publicise my personal information.

In the past I have been concerned about my Facebook privacy settings because it contains my private life and feeds of information from my private friends. At times it felt like Facebook were making moves to share my information without my explicit consent. This is where these changes to Google’s policies begin to concern me, predominantly because there is the presumption that as long as I continue to use Google’s products, I am automatically consenting to their privacy policies.

The worry is this means that if you have been using Google’s services for a while (I’ve been using my Gmail email address for 7 or so years now) then you are trapped by this policy change; there is no opt-in or opt-out. Ultimately, if you use the service you HAVE to accept the changes and how Google deals with your data. When you have been using an email address (which also happens to be the glue that holds this single user view together) for over 7 years it is very difficult to change, so even if you don’t buy-in to the policy changes, you are caught by them without a practical means of not accepting them or their ‘benefits.’

http://www.google.com/policies/

It also seems odd to me that the focus has been on privacy policy – this sets me off on the wrong foot. It dictates to me how things are going to be done, what Google is going to do with my data and that I MUST take notice of these privacy policies.

Personally I didn’t mind Google holding my personal data for as long as the data was being used to direct marketed products to ‘me’. By default however, I do not want my data to be shared with my colleagues, friends or public on-lookers. I have always loved Google and its products but if at any point they betray my trust by using my data publically, I’ll need to consider how I use their products and be sure to log-out of their systems whenever I have finished reading my email.

Essentially it seems that the number of Google’s privacy policies and terms of service was spiralling, the result being around 70 different variations across the Google family of products. Reducing this number and the complexity of these terms is commendable, as is the fact that Google have drawn my attention to it, rather than sneak it under the radar. Interestingly it is not the actual content of the privacy policy that has worried me, it is Google’s belief that automatically sharing my information across Google Circles, Google+ and Google Search Plus Your World is something I would not only want, but would be positively excited by.

Certainly the policy page is put together well, within the first paragraph I had been made aware of what is happening clearly and succinctly…

 

“We’re getting rid of over 60 different privacy policies across Google and replacing them with one that’s a lot shorter and easier to read. Our new policy covers multiple products and features, reflecting our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google.

This stuff matters, so please take a few minutes to read our updated Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service now. These changes will take effect on 1 March 2012.”

– from the Google Policies & Principles webpage.

 

What the policy actually heralds however is a different matter and with the changes being planned for March, I will have to consider my own position on the use of Google products going forward.

What are your thoughts on the unified privacy policy? Has it changed your thinking or the way in which you use Google’s products? Let me know by commenting below.

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