Google privacy policy changes raise concerns

A new blueprint by which Google will share user information across its offerings, similar to how Facebook does, is geared to enhance the experience, but critics fear the move is a privacy quagmire.

Google announced this week plans to update its privacy policy effective March 1, a move that will significantly alter way the users interact with the company.

Gone will be the 60 or so separate privacy policies the company now has — one for each of its properties. These will be replaced by a single policy that will cover all Google products.However, gone too will be a user’s ability to pick and choose how their profiles will appear on various Google sites. The company is combining all of the diverse information from users’ profiles to create a single profile for each user.

From a Google standpoint, this means users will interact with a single interface, it also means that users will not be able to maintain separate profiles for YouTube and Google+, or for Gmail and Picasa, for example. Each existing profile that uses the same login email will be combined into a single account.

Google’s announcement became public earlier this week in advance of an explanatory email sent to all users who have Google accounts. A company spokesman referred all questions to Google’s corporate blog post.

Google last changed its policies and terms of service in 2010.

Kurt Obsahl, a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on digital rights and privacy, told that users will no longer be able to compartmentalize their lives on Google. In the past, a user could effectively have one profile for their personal life and another for their corporate life. This change will combine all activities a person does into a single profile, leading to the possible of involuntary disclosure of personal information.

For example, he said, Google will not distinguish between the videos a person watches on YouTube on their personal computer or their search on a company computer, if the person is using the same Google account.

As a result, the ads served up on a search page at work might well reflect the user’s personal computing activity and might not be appropriate for the office environment, Obsahl said. While users can maintain multiple accounts and therefore multiple profiles on Google, it might not be easy for the non-technical user who uses more than one computer at home and at work.


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