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Google's New Policy

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  • Google's New Policy

    If you've visited basically any of Google's major services over the last several weeks, you may have noticed a little orange box that pops up as soon as you get to the page, sometimes hanging out right over the spot you wish you could click.

    "We're changing our privacy policy and terms. This stuff matters. Learn more or dismiss."
    By now a lot of people are used to seeing policy and TOS and EULA updates so often that one more notice from yet another service that they use on a daily basis just ends up in their mental spam filters. Either they really don't care about the gory details of how Google chews up our data, digests it and excretes ads, or they just don't want to know, ignorance being bliss and all.

    If that's you, though, plug your ears, 'cause here's what just happened: Starting March 1, Google began operating under a new, unified privacy policy. What used to be 60 separate policies have been mashed into a single one overnight. And under that policy, Google's begun combining what it knows about your activities across its services. Until now, that data wasn't shared among Google properties, but now Google Maps knows your Web searches, Contacts sees your news-reading habits, Gmail gets to know your You Tube views, etc. Anything you do with Google while signed into an account goes on your permanent Google record.

    This will no doubt give Google better ad-selling leverage, but it's also telling users there'll be some benefits for them too, mostly in the ways its services will be able to give them more personalized results. And the company's maintained that all this data will remain in Google's hands -- it won't sell it or give it to a third party unless there's a court order.

    But the outcry of critics began reaching a fever pitch in the days before the rollover occurred. Regulators in Europe warned Google that the new policy might be in violation of European privacy laws. They repeatedly asked Google to delay implementation while they took a closer look, but Google's answer was a flat no. And that seemed to work. The regulators made more requests, but that only took them to the same place.

    Finally, the day the policies took hold, European Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding reportedly claimed the changes were illegal under European law and that regulators have come to the conclusion that they are deeply concerned. Maybe if they come to the conclusion that Google needs to face hearings and pay huge fines if it doesn't reverse itself -- maybe then they'll get some traction.

    Stateside, though, the changes have been attracting negative attention from officials also. Attorneys general from three dozen states wrote to Google CEO Larry Page to tell him they're very worried about the effects of the company's new policy. Specifically, they want users to be able to opt in and opt out of the system at will.

    But even 36 growling state AGs weren't enough to convince Google to back down. What it's doing may make creep out some users, but privacy laws in the U.S. aren't as strict or cohesive as those in the EU, and the company doesn't typically back down from these situations unless it's forced to by law. And now, in-house data sharing is the law of the land for Google.
    Last edited by silent.noise34; 03-08-2012, 07:27 AM.