Google revises privacy policy, responds to critics with the 'real story'

By on January 27, 2012, 5:30 PM

Eliciting such overly-sensational headlines as "Google’s Broken Promise: The End of Don’t Be Evil", a preview of Google's new privacy policy has generated quite a stir across the web. Facing criticism from both the public and Congress (PDF), Google is now responding to those claims on its public policy blog.

The most raucous portion of the debate centers around changes which allow Google to share what it knows about you to other Google services. Google's blog summarizes the controversial bit nicely:

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.

As a minority of professional journalists and bloggers point out though, the wording may have changed, but little else has. Although people are now up in arms, Google has always been able to combine and share your personal data among its own services. Here's an excerpt from an ancient, tattered, crinkly privacy policy dating all the way back to 2005:

We may combine the information you submit under your account with information from other Google services or third parties in order to provide you with a better experience and to improve the quality of our services.

Google spins the new changes as a way to simplify privacy. Instead of 60+ different policies spanning their entire bevy of services, Google's privacy policy will now be a single document applicable to everything in the Googleverse.

The company has also made the policy easier to understand, avoiding the blobs legalese typically found in such documents.

Defending the changes in its blog, Google points out that nowhere does the new policy empower them to collect more information about you or change the way they use it. Here's what the company has to say:

  • You still have choice and control. You don’t need to log in to use many of our services, including Search, Maps and YouTube. If you are logged in, you can still edit or turn off your Search history, switch Gmail chat to “off the record,” control the way Google tailors ads to your interests, use Incognito mode on Chrome, or use any of the other privacy tools we offer.
  • We’re not collecting more data about you. Our new policy simply makes it clear that we use data to refine and improve your experience on Google — whichever products or services you use. This is something we have already been doing for a long time.
  • We’re making things simpler and we’re trying to be upfront about it. Period.
  • You can use as much or as little of Google as you want. For example, you can have a Google Account and choose to use Gmail, but not use Google+. Or you could keep your data separate with different accounts -- for example, one for YouTube and another for Gmail.

Unfortunately, privacy ultimately ends up being the real cost for free services and products. However, for anyone concerned about their privacy on Google, make sure to check out the Google Dashboard for a quick overview of what the company knows about you. The search company even provides a plethora of privacy tools which give users greater control over their online presence. 

User Comments: 15

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lipe123 said:

Google cant read your mind, stop handing out your phone numbers, email addresses and bank account passwords and you wont have a problem.

Typical modern society BS where its everyone else' fault when I make a mistake. Privacy starts with what secrets you give up, not the place they are stored.

Guest said:

"Privacy starts with what secrets you give up, not the place they are stored."

Can I hear an Amen!! lol

avoidz avoidz said:

Your life is their commodity. Facebook also knows it.

MrAnderson said:

I'm a big privacy nut, but even I think people are getting over worked over this. I promise you I do have my concerns... like I don't want my personal email messages being a strong influence on ads (or any feedback from their system) across my accounts... at least to a gratuitous and obvious way. But I really don't have cause to get upset just yet. I think Google Buzz was the only time I remember it being really not good to flip a switch on something I considered private like my contact list...

So Google is finishing up the consolidation of the administration of all of its services. Oh and they are making a single unified privacy policy to make it simiple for all accounts so you don't need to read every single one... I do recall years ago they said they maye use information accross my logins... so what! They were doing that to some extent before.

So yeah ... sensationalist reporting nudges the masses into hysteria... snap out of it people and keep your eyes on the prize.


We shoul;d be watching our legislators and those making law that are trying to pass the SOPAs and PIPA, and what about how the US is encouraging governments to pass laws shrouded in trade treaty. We should be looking into these (for all intents and purposes) back alley agreements that are going on with legislation over IP. I should scare us how our government is being manipulated and manipulating other nations because of the big business that have the money to throw out the people we elected. I don't recall Businesses having a vote.[/Rant]

Guest said:

Which is why I have never had a google account...

supyo said:

This new policy really makes me want to get a Google+ account now. Way too sell it Google! I thought Facebook was bad..

MrAnderson said:

Is everyone just going off the way articles are spinning what google is doing, or are people actually reading the documents that seem to have provoked these negative responses...

They have not said anything about making your information public... they are simply saying that all your accounts are now truely one account, and the information is in each can now cross polinate (obviously whereit makes sense). It is our jobs as users to let them know immediately where they have over step their bounds. We did when the created Buzz, and we will a gain. They are not perfect, but they do respond when users have a concrete issue. We are not there yet. And the are not being Evil, they are making sure they can continue to do business effectively and continue the effort to not be evil. It is a balancing act. And yes you can close you google accounts if you really think that making a unified privacy policy is evil...

Guest said:

I think is bad move for Google and not good for us.

One bad think early days Google just a search engine index data.

Now Google has data (a lots of it ) in their servers they have collected (we have given) with free services and they just index and serve it to make more money.

that's why I don't use chrome OS or browser or gmail is my secondary email.

most of the free email services has my fake data also Facebook too. I dont give my identity so easily

cause it took 40 years to earn.


Rick Rick, TechSpot Staff, said:

MrAnderson said:

Is everyone just going off the way articles are spinning what google is doing, or are people actually reading the documents that seem to have provoked these negative responses...

I believe the title of one of the linked articles sums up the reality of these kinds of issues very nicely, "Internet freak-out over Google's new privacy policy proves again that no one actually reads privacy policies"

As far as I can tell, little has changed. Assassination pieces done by the likes of Gizmodo (also linked in the article) help fuel the echo chamber and make it ripe for a sensational response. Congress' involvement doesn't help at all, either.

Privacy + Google does rightfully worry many people, including myself -- but not their privacy policy change, though. For people who are truly concerned about their privacy, the only sure-fire solution is to simply not use Google. Also, one may be able to effectively stay "off the grid" reasonably well by creating accounts with bogus information and using anonymous VPN/proxy/network services. That's a lot of work though. :-)

Det Det said:

I don't give a crap what they know about me. As long as Chrome and Android keep on improving as fast as they have in the past I can live in my own little bubble and smile.

Guest said:

Google makes nearly every penny on advertising and marketing! Who expected any privacy in the first place?

ikesmasher said:

thats why i dont give any personal info to google. for me it goes the other way google info goes to other people (google is my email address ONLY as of right now) theres no reason to link my address/phone number/full name/social security number/credit card numbers/(exagerations but you get the idea)

fpsgamerJR62 said:

Privacy on the Net is an illusion. Just don't hand over to Google any personal information that you wouldn't give to a complete stranger in the first place. I use only Gmail but if I ever want to join Google+ or any other Google services, it would be helpful if I didn't have to introduce myself all over again.

Guest said:

It seems like people were asleep and just signed up and used Google and freely gave out their information. Now, people are waking up and realizing what's going on and are all up in arms. Google has not really changed, it's just the people using Google have woken up.

Guest said:

Protecting yourself against loss of privacy on the net is similar to reducing your exposure to carcinogens. It's in your best interest, but the risk-reward ratio changes with age.

Young people have more "potential" at stake. The future worth of their potential is unknown. It merits being guarded in youth. A poor reputation could be falsely generated in youth yet remain ageless on the internet, damaging a man or woman for a lifetime. Like hand guns, Google doesn't kill people, but it makes it easier for unethical people to "kill" the futures of good people by retrieving and combining information and misinformation, from their pasts.

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