Google’s roll-out of a new privacy policy effective March 1, 2012, combined with the launch of the Google Search Plus Your World program (which merges Google+ with Google Search results) earlier this month, has created a torrent of criticism across the globe.




(1) Google Is Creating an Omnibus Privacy Policy for the “Googleverse”

Currently, Google has approximately 80 privacy policies covering its many websites and offerings.  For example, the following Google products/services each have their own privacy policy:

+1 Button, Advertising, Advisor, Apps, Blogger, Books, Buzz, Chrome, Chrome Frame, Gears, Google+, Google Music, Google Notebook, Google TV, Google Web Toolkit, Groups, Health Knol Location Service in Firefox, Mobile, Moderator, Orkut, Picasa, Postini, Safe Browsing, Sites, Store, Toolbar, Trader, Translator Toolkit, Voice, Wallet, Web Accelerator, Web History, YouTube

The new policy creates one omnibus policy govering all such applications, simplifying the process and creating greater transparency.  

(2)  Users Already Consent to Sharing (Much of) this Data 

As Google explains : 

The main change is for users with Google Accounts. 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. In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.

Since as early as 2005, Google has disclosed that 

[w]e may combine the information you submit under your account with information from other Google services or third parties in order to provide you with a better experience and to improve the quality of our services.

(although it is unclear whether this is true for all Google services).  Nonetheless, this may explain why one lawyer noted that that “[w]hat we have is not a reaction to a change in legal language, but it’s a change in perception.”  As Forbes’ Kashmir Hill wrote in her Not So Private Parts blog: 

What’s changing is not Google’s privacy policies but its practices. By combining information from across all of its services, Google will be able to better target users with ads, offer more innovative features, and, importantly for Google, better compete with Facebook.

(3)  Users Can Opt-Out (sort-of)

Users who do not consent to the Privacy Policy changes can quit their services and extract their data entirely – or alternatively the user can refrain from using Google services requiring a log-in after March 1st.

Google’s public policy blog post explains:

  • You still have choice and control. You don’t need to log in to use many of our services, including Search, Maps and YouTube. If you are logged in, you can still edit or turn off your Search history, switch Gmail chat to “off the record,” control the way Google tailors ads to your interests, use Incognito mode on Chrome, or use any of the other privacy tools we offer. . . . 
  • You can use as much or as little of Google as you want. For example, you can have a Google Account and choose to use Gmail, but not use Google+. Or you could keep your data separate with different accounts — for example, one for YouTube and another for Gmail.

(4)  Not Applicable to Enterprise/Government Clients

These changes to not apply to Google’s largre customers whose privacy rights are defined by contract.

(5)  Google is Facing a Political Backlash as a Result: 

Only weeks after Google escaped being a “political pinata” over SOPA, it is now facing a similar fight.  The move has triggered demands that Google brief Congress on the changes and calls for the FTC to assess whether Google has violated its 2011 consent decree.  In addition, the Deputy European Union Data Commissioner has indicated that the EU would be looking into the changes once implemented.

It may be facing an even worse public relations backlash, as one survey found that 66 percent of users would cancel their account as a result, how to delete a Google account was emerging as a hot search on Google trends and anti-Google graffiti was spotted in New York.

RESOURCES  (1) Google Announcement; (2) Google Privacy Policy Archive; (3) Google Data Liberation Front; (4) Google will know more about you than your partner’: Uproar as search giant reveals privacy policy that will allow them to track you on all their products, Daily Mail (Jan. 26, 2012); (4) Internet Freak Out Over Googles New Privacy Policy Proves No-one Actually Reads Privacy Policies, (Jan. 25, 2012); (5) Google alternatives; (6) Google Search Alternatives; and (7) letter from House Energy & Commerce Committee 



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