Google Unleashes New, Controversial Privacy Policy

Dennis Faas's picture

Google has unveiled a major overhaul of its online user tracking system, claiming to make its services more useful. However, critics fear the changes, set for March 1, 2012, will allow for more effective snooping of user data and online activities.

The changes center around the way the company keeps track of activity data, and the way it's then used.

Google Pools Online Tracking to 'Improve' Advertising, Search

Under the old system, someone who receives a lot of emails about football will see advertisements for football. Someone who watches a lot of comedy clips on YouTube will see lots of ads for comedy shows.

Under the new system, Google will combine the data it collects across its many different web sites and services, including android phones, Google accounts, Google search, Google maps, and many more, excepting only Google Wallet, Google Books, and its browser: Chrome.

Those football and comedy fans, for example, may start seeing targeted advertisements not just in their emails or on YouTube, but everywhere online.

Search tools will also be updated to consider the user's full online experience. For example, if a football fan searches for "jaguars", the new system will be better able to determine if he is trying to find out about the animal or the car, and will likely serve up results for the Jacksonville Jaguars football team rather than the automobile.

The combined information will also be used to auto-complete Google Search, and will even influence the spelling dictionary in Gmail. (Source:

Privacy Advocates Question the Changes

The changes are distressing privacy advocates, who argue that people may not want to have the contents of private emails influence their experience in Google maps. Many complain the changes are intended to give Google more ability to monetize the data it collects, not to help users.

Along with these changes, Google is dramatically reducing the complexity of its privacy policies. At the moment, it has about 70 different privacy documents, each covering a specific service.

In the future, more than 60 of these documents will be replaced with a single privacy policy, written in clearer language. The remaining 10 or so privacy documents must, according to Google, remain separate for legal reasons. (Source:

At this point, there's no way to "opt out" from the changes, except to stop using Google entirely.

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