Google User Monitoring Raises Privacy Concerns

(Michael Gottschalk/AFP/Getty Images)

Google User Monitoring Raises Privacy Concerns

Google will track what you do across all Google-owned services

On Tuesday Google announced that it would consolidate its 60 different privacy policies into just one and that the new policy would take effect March 1. However, the new policy has privacy advocates raising some concerns.

PCWorldoutlines the changes:

Google plans on tracking you across almost every one of its products you use including Calendar, Docs, Gmail, search, and YouTube to give you better search results, more precisely targeted ads, and helpful schedule reminders. The new "features" are set to kick in March 1 when Google is condensing more than 70 disparate privacy policies for all its different products into one mega-policy.

As a result of the change, whenever you sign into your Google account, the search giant will treat you as a single user and collect your user information into one database. The end result will be "a simpler, more intuitive Google experience," according to Google's blog post announcing the change.

Google offered this video as explanation of why they were changing their privacy policy:

CBC News notes:

Google's new plan to link user data across its email, video, social-networking sites has come under fire from critics who say it's an invasion of privacy because of the sheer volume of information collected and the inability of users to opt out.

ACLU'sblog points out the implications of Google's changes:

With this new integration, your e-mail content won't influence only what ads you see in Gmail, and your search terms won't influence just what ads you see when you're searching. As of March 1, your e-mail content and search terms could influence ads you see on any Google site. So, imagine watching a YouTube video with friends or family and suddenly having an ad based on what you assumed was a private e-mail conversation or a personal Google search appear. Yikes! And short of signing out of your Google account, there is no opting out.

What's more, this data aggregation is not just about what ads you see, but as ACLU of Massachusetts describes, it creates an even larger treasure chest of personal information ripe for government picking.

And what about anonymity? Google is planning to "replace past names associated with your Google Account so that you are represented consistently across all our services." But, what if you deliberately keep different names on your various accounts? What if, for instance, you want your e-mail address associated with your legal name, but would prefer for your YouTube account not to tie directly to you? Unfortunately, Google's new integration policy will make it very difficult, if not impossible, to do so.

The Washington Postoffered some FAQs on the new changes, noting how this would particularly affect Android users:

Because you have to sign in to your Google account to do anything except for browse the Web and make phone calls, Google will be able to track practically anything you do on your phone using Google services.

USA Todayreports on Electronic Frontier Foundation's technology projects director Peter Eckersley's reaction:

He says the search giant's disclosure that it will track what you do across all Google-owned services that you partake of -- on your PC and mobile devices -- comes across more like a confession than a bold new move.

"It has always been the case that Google kept effectively linkable records of our uses of Gmail, Search, Maps and Market for Android, and other services," says Eckersley. "Only very sophisticated users have ever been able to remove any of that linkability, and that remains the case today.

"In a couple of cases, Google had some internal practices of not linking your browsing history, and YouTube history, to other data -- and those internal walls at the company are now gone."

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