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

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.


Click to sign petition

Don’t know what the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) or Protect IP Act (PIPA) are, or why they’re so controversial? Gizmodo has a pretty thorough overview here.

In a nutshell: It is legislation — SOPA in the U.S. House and its counterpart PIPA in the Senate — that aims to stop online piracy, copyright infringement and illegal downloading, such as the illegal file-sharing of music and movies, for example. In and of itself, not a bad thing.

Here’s the problem, which the National Post has articulated so nicely:

Not only would SOPA and PIPA force American website operators to police every single piece of user-generated content on their sites — an impossible job with potentially huge liability costs. The bills would also allow copyright holders to obtain unopposed court orders, forcing Internet companies to block access to foreign sites that are alleged to have violated U.S. intellectual property laws. Court orders could be used to prevent advertising and online payment companies from doing business with foreign sites and to prevent search engines, such as Google, from linking to certain content.

Even more worrisome is the fact that SOPA and PIPA would give the U.S. government the direct authority to block entire domains and blocks of IP addresses. Canadians should be especially concerned about this, since the legislation treats all dot-com, dot-net and dot-org domains — as well as all North American IP addresses — as “domestic Internet protocol addresses” that would be subject to U.S. law. [My emphasis -AW] The bills would employ the same practices used by authoritarian regimes, such as China and Iran, to censor information and quash dissent. Ironically, they would also outlaw the technologies that foreign activists use to evade censorship, including those developed by the U.S. government.

SOPA and PIPA directly target the very aspects of the Internet that make it powerful and worthwhile — the ability to share and link to information that can by published by anyone, anywhere. That would be reason enough to oppose the legislation. But there’s more to the story.

The debate over SOPA and PIPA draws a clear line between new media and old— and between entrepreneurship and reliance on government intervention. On the one side are the opponents of the bill — organizations and companies that are products of the self-starting Internet age, such as Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla, Wikipedia, WordPress and the like. On the other side are the dinosaurs advocating for the bill, including the motion picture and recording industries, which have been slow to adapt to the realities of the Internet, and would rather lean on government to provide them protection, than come up with innovative new business models that would be attractive to modern consumers.

On Wednesday, several major websites including Wikipedia, Google, WordPress and Reddit will blackout some, or all, of their sites in protest. See what that looks like here.

ProPublica has a pretty handy graphic showing who in congress supports and opposes the legislation. As of early Wednesday morning, they had 80 for and 31 against, although the New York Times reported Republican senators Marco Rubio (a PIPA co-sponsor) and John Cornyn — on ProPublica’s “supporters” list — announced they would no longer back it, changing the figure to 78 for, 33 against.

As Cornyn said on his Facebook page: It is “better to get this done right rather than fast and wrong. Stealing content is theft, plain and simple, but concerns about unintended damage to the internet and innovation in the tech sector require a more thoughtful balance, which will take more time.”

10:30 a.m. UPDATE: Reps. Lee Terry and Ben Quayle, also co-sponsors of the bill, have also said they will withdraw their support for SOPA. In the Senate, Roy Blunt has withdrawn his support for PIPA, saying it “is deeply flawed and still needs much work.” Won’t be able to update this too frequently throughout the day, but I’m hoping the figure keeps changing.

6:30 p.m. UPDATE: ProPublica now has it at 70 supporters and 64 opponents.

8:20 p.m. UPDATE: 68 supporters, 71 opponents

Jan. 19, 9:45 a.m. UPDATE: 64 supporters, 108 opponents

2011 Photo Throwdown: We did it!

One year ago, Erin Loxam and I pledged to take and upload a photo every single day for the entire year. Somehow, we’ve gone and done it. I believe she originally thought we’d last about three weeks.

Reflections: I was really struggling at some points, especially on days that consisted of nothing but waking up, going to work and going home. It was also a pain to upload something to WordPress every day, so every once in a while I’d bank up a number of photos then post them all. That was something Erin found annoying, too. Further, Erin just takes a lot more photos than I do — and way better ones — so on some days when she was posting amazing nature shots, I was posting photos of the takeout I was eating at work.

Overall, I liked the challenge, and knowing that we saw through a year-long goal that required at least minimal effort on a daily basis. I will probably continue posting the odd photo, but it absolutely won’t be every day anymore. Maybe once a week, once every two weeks.

Thanks to Erin, for challenging me both to stick with it and put a little effort into my shots, and my former journalism instructor Mark Hamilton, who inspired this throwdown last year by challenging his students to commit one creative act every day.

Below, a few shots from the year that were particularly significant to me, for one reason or another:

Gastown steam clock on a rainy Vancouver night - Jan. 5, 2011

Mubarak out - Feb. 12, 2011

Old timey gas station in Steveston village - Feb. 22, 2011)

Granville Street - Feb. ? (Might not even be Feb), 2011

Page from Revolutionary Road - March 12, 2011

Snoopy - April 12, 2011

Flames engulf a construction site at Cambie near Garden City in Richmond - May 3, 2011

Puerto Vallarta - April ?, 2011

Wedding day - May 21, 2011

Kid vs. boxer – May 22, 2011

Dejected Canucks fans on Granville Street after Bruins' brutal 8-1 win in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final - June 6, 2011

Best office ever. At Rogers Arena for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final - June 1, 2011

More than just glass: Stanley Cup Riot - June 15, 2011

Riot wall - June 20ish, 2011

Somewhere between Burlington and Bellingham, maybe - July 10, 2011

July 31, 2011

Little guy in a big, big world - Aug. 5, 2011

A perfect day on the Sunshine Coast - Aug ?, 2011

Henry Miller, a cappuccino and the Marmara Sea, in Istanbul - Oct ?, 2011

Girl in the red coat - Oct ?, 2011

Occupy Vancouver begins - Oct. 15, 2011

Nov. 7, 2011

Painting - Nov. 16, 2011

Occupy Cascadia - Nov. 18, 2011

Spotted on a street sign, on a rainy Vancouver night - Nov. 26, 2011

See how Erin did here.