Explaining The New Google Privacy Rules

Google has said it plans to consolidate its existing privacy policies into one mammoth central policy, as well as simplifying its terms of service. Should you be concerned?

Google explained the changes, which will take effect from March 1, in a posting on its official blog today. Dropping from more than 70 privacy policies for different products to a single main privacy policy and a single set of terms of service does make it more likely that people will understand what's involved. The old terms of service ran to 4200-odd words; the new one is 1800 words. It's still not a compelling read, but it is a lot easier to follow.

Granted, the vast majority of Google users probably don't even think about the terms of use associated with various Google products or realise that there are differences depending which one they use. But if you do care, it's good not to have to wade through so much crap to discover them.

That change is also consistent with the general mood around Google in the Google+ era, where services are being shut down and merged into a giant search/social networking behemoth which in turn opens up new advertising opportunities. Google's one-time mantra might have been "don't be evil", but as a listed company, its actual mission (like every other company in the same boat) is "make as much money as fast as possible".

Google itself is fairly transparent about what it sees as the benefit of making the switch:

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.

Again, I suspect many people assumed this was happening anyway, but it doesn't hurt to spell it out. There are also still lengthy separate privacy policies for Chrome, Books and Wallet. But the underlying principle is this: you need to assume that Google is actively tracking and categorising absolutely everything you do with its tools. That's not new, and personalisation can make the service extremely handy. But it helps to be aware of what you're involved with.

For many people, the notion that Google knows so much about their lives, interests and habits is disturbing. If you fall into that category, then check out our suggestions for alternatives to Google Services and our guide to searches where Google isn't the best tool anyway.

You can also opt to use Google without signing in and with cookies turned off. It won't be personalised, but it will still be useful.

What's your reaction to the change? Tell us in the comments.

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Comments

    They build the service so they make the rules. Got a problem with it don't use it. most people are so open on facebook so privacy for some isn't that important.

    It's hardly a radical privacy policy shift, as Gizmodo was ranting. Someone's account information will be shared across the company they have an account with? What's wrong with that?

      Exactly.. can you imagine having to deal with separate sections of your bank (or similar) if they didn't share information across the sections?? You bank with them for 5 years, then you apply for a loan and suddenly you are a nobody.. get a credit card.. and you're a newbie again..

      This is a much better article than the one on Gizmodo..

    I had a look at the privacy policy. Then went to the dashboard to see what they had recorded about me. Not too much there to bother me, except that they had concluded by my web habits that I an a 30 -40 yr old male.
    I am a 63 yr old female. Guess I will have to stop visiting LH and Giz.

    The 'problem with that' is that A> because of Google's dominance there are few viable alternatives, and B> (and most importantly] they don't allow you to opt out...it's Google's way or no Google, and in the 'information age' you should be able to contain what part of your self (your private emails) are used to sell ads to you!

      #1 if you're concerned go into the dashboard as websquirrel mentioned and update your demographic information to something totally wrong. I for example am now a 102 year old man according to google. (I'm actually a 26 year old female).

      #2 AdBlock. Know it, Love it.

    The title of this article is misleading. It does not explain the new privacy rules as announced, it just says what Google already told us, that they are changing numerous policies into just one. I expected this article would explain that one in depth. Disappointing.

      I'm not going to falsely create complexity when there isn't any :)

    It's not restricted to being signed in, it's also buggy, when a Google ad manages to bypass my blocking it usually serves up suggestions for other people in the office who use the search or, who knows, at home.

    @shaun no.
    #1 You don't get to make the rules up just because it's your product. You follow the rules like everyone else and if you operate across the globe you make damn sure you know ALL the rules and apply them ALL.
    #2 You can't "not use" Google, I know this because I closed my account and blocked every server I know of. But I'm tied to a 2 year contract with an Android phone and my provider is digging their heels in about my right to change, both Windows and Linux have Google software you CAN'T remove (possibly I could reformat my PC but then I use it for work and don't see why a company should be able to force me to do so on the off chance I can remove software this way instead of through more accepted means) --and how many people will spend over an hour searching their registry and file system to root out every reference to Google?
    A large part of their data gathering is server side and embedded in other peoples' websites, how many average users even know what a HOSTS file is?

    The big reason people need to be protected from this at a legislative level is they are essentially stupid.
    No one has even read the terms, I've asked family, colleagues and 2 members of parliament. Not one.
    Most people assume Google is search, some know about YouTube. Few realise just how pervasive their services are and how invasive their policy allows them to be.

    Try it, re-read the terms and frame them in the context of the mobile phone that you are not allowed to get rid of for 2 more years.

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