Those changes go into effect today and some people are absolutely freaking out.
Some 36 state attorneys general are so upset about these changes, they’ve written a letter to the company expressing their concerns. (PDF here.)
People have reason to be suspicious of Google. Last month, it came out that Google bypassed default privacy settings on the Safari Web browser on the iPhone. In 2010, it collected information from users’ unsecured Wi-Fi networks when it was supposed to be looking only for location data. (Google says this was an accident.) Also in 2010, it connected its social networking product, Buzz, with Gmail so users could in some cases see one another’s contacts. (The FTC put Google on 20 year probation for that one.)
But in this particular case, the concern is totally overblown.
As we’ve written before, Google is turning into a portal — a collection of integrated services. Yes, this is quite different from what Google claimed to be a long time ago, but that’s the new reality.
These new privacy policies are exactly what you’d expect from an integrated portal.
Just about every other Internet service provider shares information to make its own products better and target ads.
Facebook uses your private information to suggest other friends for you. Microsoft will use your private information to display “content and advertising that are customised to your needs and preferences.” AOL, Yahoo, you name it.
If you’re one of the few people who is really worried about what Google thinks it knows about you, you can solve the problem pretty easily. Do these things:
- Sign out of Gmail (and any other Google service you have to sign in for) when you’re done using it.
- Set up your browser so it blocks cookies by default. Here’s how to clear cookies on Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome.
- You can also use private browsing, which clears all data from your browser when you close it. Here’s how to do that on Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari (this is for Safari 3.0 but it hasn’t changed) and Chrome.
- Access Google’s privacy dashboard here, which lets you control exactly what data each service collects about you. You may particularly want to “remove” all past searches from your Google Web history (here’s how). That will automatically “pause” Google from collecting your searches in the future.
This is what I do, and Google apparently knows nothing about my ad preferences. I’ve been a Gmail user since 2004, and I signed up for Google+ at launch and regularly post there.
There are plenty of real and serious privacy problems to worry about. This isn’t one of them.