Google’s new privacy policy: an explainer

On March 1, Google will launch its new privacy policy. What will this mean to you? In a nut shell: While Google has always collected user data — evident in the “personalized” ads based on search queries, for example — it will now share that info across 60 of its web services. So, say you’ve been Googling Ryan Gosling all day…

Ryan Gosling, in pancake form

…recommended videos about Gosling might then pop up on your YouTube homepage. Before, data collected at each of these services was kept separate. Users cannot opt out of this new policy.

Google policy manager Betsy Masiello says this is merely to streamline matters and that Google won’t be collecting any more data than it did before. Critics are concerned about whether this violates privacy rights — what will Google do with the new, super-thorough user profiles? — and what it will mean for Android users, who access much of the smartphone’s functions by signing in through their Google accounts.

Others still argue Google is upping its aggregation of user info to better compete with Facebook for advertising dollars. From eWeek.com:

Why does Google need to improve its social ad targeting? Because Facebook is already doing exactly this. As a result, Facebook is crushing all comers, including Google, in user engagement. This means users are spending more time on Facebook and seeing more ads, which allows Facebook to make more money.

Eight members of congress wrote a letter to Google CEO Larry Page asking for clarification on the changes. Among their questions:

Does Google offer users the option to permanently delete their personal information from its archives? If not, why not?

Does Google store or permanently delete user information once a user closes or deletes his or her Gmail account or Google+ account?

Does Google plan to offer distinct privacy protections for children and teens?

Again, Google users who have logged in to use its services cannot opt out of the new cross-service info gathering. But there are Google services that don’t require signing in to use (e.g. search and YouTube), and you can make it all a little less annoying by turning off personalized ads.

If you’re still nervous enough to consider abandoning Google for good, Gizmodo has compiled a list of Google service alternatives.

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