Internet

What's Going On with Google's New Privacy Policy?

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Get in mah database

Last week, Google announced what Pablo Chavez, director of public policy for the company, called "the most extensive user notification effort" in the company's history, reports Politico. These notifications advised users to upcoming changes in Google's privacy policy—specifically, the consolidation of separate policies across services into one umbrella statement.

Responses varied among tech bloggers and reporters. Some were upset: Mat Honan at Gizmodo was apparently so scandalized that he commissioned a visual realization of the true evil at the hearts of Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. The tech blog VentureBeat declared Google a goner.

Critics charged that "by combining its services, Google makes anonymity more difficult" (VentureBeat), and that "every day, Google pushes harder to keep users inside its ecosystem, discouraging them from venturing elsewhere whenever possible" (Lifehacker). Members of Congress spoke out as well, as Infosecurity reports:

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), co-chairmen of the Congressional Bi-partisan Privacy Caucus, sent a letter on Friday to the FTC asking the agency to probe whether the lack of an opt-out provision in Google's new privacy policy, which allows the company to track activities of users across most of its services, violates the company's consent agreement reached last year over the Buzz social network.

These are all serious charges, but they also fail to acknowledge that users can avoid data collection by signing out of Google while using search, YouTube, and other products; by creating multiple log-ins; by ticking the "off the record" option for Gchat; by disabling search history; and by tinkering with other options in their preferences.

This also isn't the first time legislators have seen a problem with Internet user privacy and taken it upon themselves to flesh out the perfect set of regulations to keep user data private. In Reason's June 2004 issue, Declan McCullagh summarized a similar effort:

Congress has convened dozens of hearings on Internet privacy issues, and in April 2002 Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) introduced his Online Personal Privacy Act. The now-defunct bill would have regulated how Internet service providers, commercial Web sites, and noncommercial sites supported by advertising or product sales collect information about customers. The legislation covered "personally identifiable information," including names, e-mail addresses, and numeric I.P. addresses.

The catch, McCullagh explained, is that Congress' April 2002 Online Personal Privacy Act and Europe's opt-in mandates from the same time period are one-size-fits-all solutions to a problem that is lent complexity by the many different types of businesses that provide services—some of which they need to advertise—across a multitude of markets. Google argues that by consolidating user data, the company is more likely to provide search results and advertisements that are relevant to the user's needs.

It's unclear yet where all this leads. Congress and the FTC may step in again, as they did with Google's Buzz fiasco from last year. Privacy observers may simply drop the whole thing after they see the upside to the new policy. Considering that implementation of the changes is still a full month away, we'll have to wait and see what happens.

More from Reason on privacy.

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  1. I’m still annoyed by Google’s “do a barrel roll” gimmick.

    1. Try “askew”

      1. Gave it a shot. A whole lot less annoying, especially since I have to type in the whole word for it to work. Just typing “do ” is enough to trigger the barrel roll.

      2. use IE and you won’t have to deal with their games

        1. Right. One silly gimmick is enough to drive me to the worst browser of all.

  2. Seems like a foolish move, because it will undoubtedly draw Congressional attention.

    They need to learn how not to be seen.

    1. This seems backwards logic.

      Congress needs to learn how to stay the fuck out of private transactions and agreements unless someone is actively harmed in the process.

      1. I’m not saying I agree that Congress needs to dive in. That’s just what they do.

    2. Bi or want to find people having the same sexual orientation?—datebi*cO’m— is a safe and free site for you.

  3. “These are all serious charges, but they also fail to acknowledge that users can avoid data collection by signing out of Google while using search, YouTube, and other products; by creating multiple log-ins; by ticking the “off the record” option for Gchat; by disabling search history; and by tinkering with other options in their preferences.”

    Or to simply not use google. It’s not as if there are plenty of other search engines, free email providers, video sites, social media sites, etc.

    1. None of that works, I assume, if Google tracks by IP address?

      1. Really? Google is going to track me if I don’t use any of its services? I’m pretty sure that’s not what they’re proposing.

      2. None of that works, I assume, if Google tracks by IP address?

        The government’s doing that already. Google would just be duplication of effort.

    2. Or to simply not use google. It’s not as if there are plenty of other search engines, free email providers, video sites, social media sites, etc.

      But that’s an icky free market solution to the problem. Why have consumers make informed choices when we can just have government intercede and “save” the day?

  4. Nobody is forcing you to use google.
    unless you buy their phone.

  5. Google is learning the hard way that many who loved them before now hate them for being a huge corporation, and “don’t be evil” only worked as a slogan until they crossed some arbitrary threshold and are now “too big” in those people’s minds.

    1. How true. Google is facing the hate that Microsoft endured. Apple still has it coming.

      1. Apple is immune. It’s a luxury brand and a favorite one of the left.

        1. So was Google at one time. With the stories coming out about how bad conditions are at Apple’s factories in China and how much working there sucks, it’s only a matter of time before they become un-hip. Maybe the hipsters will start using Dells ironically.

        2. Now that the great leader in the black mock turtleneck died, they have begun to swarm.

      2. I’m smelling an anti-trust lawsuit brewing.

        1. Oh, most definitely. And I’m sure Google is too. This administration is chock full of statist scum who will be unable to resist going after as big a target as Google.

      3. Been looking forward to this date for years. Finally people are getting past their “irrational exuberance” about Google/Apple products (albeit more slowly on the apple side). When the first widespread trojan totally jacks iOS, that will truly open some peoples eyes.

        1. It’s only been around 5 years, and has LONG passed the point of critical mass.

          Either put up or shut up. Not saying it can’t happen, but it seems like we already would have seen a wave of attacks if there was either an interest or possibility.

    2. When you think about it, that’s kind of like what happened with the Federal Government; they eventually grew so big and controlled so much of our lives that more and more people came to resent them. Of course, it also means that more and more people have become dependent on them for their very existence.

  6. That g with horns is a letter in the Turkish alphabet (although the horns shouldn’t be touching the g). It is the only silent Turkish letter, and its purpose is to make the preceding vowel long. E.g., T?rko?lu is pronounced something like “Turk-oh-lou”. The more you know.

    1. Why do you know Turkish? Are you Turkish? Turkish men tend to be hot, in my experience.

      1. Turkish men tend to be doughy engineers, in my experience. My lab is infested with them.

        Are you Turkish?

        Nope. Not hairy enough. I’m so white and boring, I could almost be Canadian.

        1. Canadian: The unflavored tapioca of Caucasians.

          1. You could have just said micks and scots and kept it simpler.

          2. I felt very un-PC the other day watching some tennis shit or other and there was a rare Canadian player. I took one look at his Eastern European name and went “He wasn’t born in Canada.” I checked online and was of course correct.

        2. I see a Turkish name, I hope for someone as hot as this one prof I had in college whom I totally wanted to bang. I think I probably met another hot Turkish guy one time too. Admittedly this is hardly a trend.

          You should get your doughy engineer buddies on the lift heavy things and eat a lot of meat regime. Help make the world a hotter, more muscled place.

          1. But then I would have to work harder to seize their women. No dice.

            1. Fair enough. Being smart enough to be an engineer nerd and also being a huge muscular brute is a pretty deadly combo.

              1. Are you trying to seduce me, Miss Taggart?

      2. You know, Dagny, I’m half Turkish… 🙂

  7. Lessee,

    I downloaded and am using Firefox (careful, the default search is Google – change it) and am using Bing for searches. This is not quite as good as Google’s stuff that I had learned to like, but it solves the problem. Want my trade? Do my bidding.

    My attitude is a little extreme, but I figure if my father could rot in the Philippines and take a chance on having his ass shot off to protect our freedom, I can suffer a little inconvenience.

    If you are interested, try the Wikipedia page “List of Search Engines” – lots of them out there, just not quite as good and more specialized.

    1. dogpile ftw

  8. I have found Google be incredibly open about their privacy policies and make it incredibly easy to manage your preferences (as opposed to Facebook who makes even deleting friends as difficult as possible). Having all the policies centralized is nice and if they are sharing advertising data between them I won’t see a difference as I block all ads anyways.

    This change doesn’t bother me at all and I will be sticking with them for much of my internet needs. If things change for the worse, I’ll just quit. Government should keep its nose out of our relationship.

  9. These are all serious charges, but they also fail to acknowledge that users can avoid data collection by signing out of Google while using search, YouTube, and other products; by creating multiple log-ins; by ticking the “off the record” option for Gchat; by disabling search history; and by tinkering with other options in their preferences.

    Uh, that doesn’t really work. Google is smart enough to be able to link behavior at IP address X to user Y if user Y is the logged in name that shows up the most at IP address X. The fact that it took me about 3 seconds to figure out a work around to this solution means that Google has as well and has already implemented it.

    For the record, my buddy that works at Google says that they make autocomplete and search less precise than they could because it would creep people out if Google was as dead on as it could be.

  10. These are all serious charges, but they also fail to acknowledge that users can avoid data collection by signing out of Google while using search, YouTube, and other products; by creating multiple log-ins; by ticking the “off the record” option for Gchat; by disabling search history; and by tinkering with other options in their preferences.

    This is beyond the average Mac user or physician.

  11. A more serious threat to privacy, IMO, is Netflix current campaign to be allowed to sell/share its subscribers’ viewing history.

  12. Use scroogle, there is even a firefox add on http://www.scroogle.org/

  13. Google’s new terms for privacy policy is worth and good to consider. The things you have posted and made us updated. Thanks for that.

  14. Who cares? Seriously the everybody quit Facebook thing over privacy had some small amount of people leaving it over the usual amount.

    Apple’s immune to criticism or just a victim of other companies choosing to make stuff overseas, what they never make mention of is a lot of the other phone/tablet makers make the their products in their home countries.

  15. A simple and ideal solution would be for them to have a simple, *consistent* option across their sites. Instead of having the multitude of ways mentioned in this article, there should be a single check-box next to the Send/Submit button on search/mail/etc. forms. And this solution should be government mandated to ensure that other conglomerations follow suit (since big companies like to buy and sell small companies and their wares like penny-candy).

    Problem solved.

  16. My opinion of why google is doing this is to simply help the government track us know everything about us, where you are at, what your doing at almost all times they basically want us to be slaves to society and know if we are doing anything not so kosher (illeagal activities such as internet PIRACY of games, music, movies, apps etc which seems to be the big deal of it all), because how convenient SOPA PIPA fail then google changes its privacy policies so quickly there after, little suspicious don’t you think so my opinion if you were against SOPA PIPA you should be against google and boycott everything to do with them they are trying to change the internet and not for the better they want to control us, control the information we get, its your privacy and its at stake if you people just let it happen (which apparently it will because people are too stupid to really understand their reasoning’s behind everything)

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