So why exactly is Google doing this? Well, if you had more than 70 different privacy policies that applied to your tremendous array of products and services, as the search company explains in its blog post, you’d probably feel as if you had too much legalese to deal with, too. And if Google finds all of these different policies complicated – and that’s AFTER they trimmed back on their policies in 2010, by the way – surely their users find the situation a little bewildering as well.
Google retained separate privacy policies for Google Chrome Browser and Chrome OS, Google Books, and Google Wallet, but more than 60 will be covered by just one policy. The company says that this will assist it in its “efforts to integrate our different products more closely so that we can create a beautifully simple, intuitive user experience across Google.” Google notes that this approach “is now fairly standard across the web,” and in line with regulatory calls for shorter, simpler privacy policies.
Basically, the new policy will allow all of the information that Google collects about you to be shared between its services. It’s important to note that Google won’t be collecting any MORE information about its users than it already does; it just won’t be kept in separate silos any longer. Combining information in this way could allow Google to make more intelligent guesses when you use their services.
For instance, if Google notices from your YouTube viewing or sharing that you’re more interested in jaguars (the animal) than Jaguars (the car), when you put the word “jaguar” into its search engine, it will return results relevant to the animal and not the auto. Or if you use Gmail, Google may remember the way your friends spell their names, and make corrections accordingly. As an example of what might eventually be possible in an environment where information gets shared between services, Google notes in its blog entry that “We can provide reminders that you’re going to be late for a meeting based on your location, your calendar and an understanding of what the traffic is like that day.”
What Google may be able to do with the new policy sounds helpful to those of us who are so busy we need the search engine’s tools to keep track of everything anyway. But it also sounds somewhat creepy, in a stalker-boyfriend way. Add in the fact that users can’t opt out of these changes short of removing their data and not using Google at all, and you have a recipe for Internet outrage.
IT World pointed out that Android users will be most affected by the new policy. Kevin Purdy makes a list of the information Google may collect from such users: hardware model, operating system version, unique device identifiers, and mobile network information (including phone number); the number you’re calling, forwarding numbers, times and dates of calls, SMS routing information; and of course, Google can use your device’s GPS, nearby Wi-Fi signals, and cell tower triangulation “to figure out where you are and serve up local-focused search results and ads.”
And really, the reason behind this change may be all about the ads. As Bianca Bosker writing for the Huffington Post notes, “By combining information it gleans about an individual’s interests and preferences based on his use of several different Google products, from Gmail and YouTube to Google search and Google Maps, Google can effectively compile more complete profiles of the people using its offerings – and, among other things, serve up more targeted ads and more customized content.”
Or are we all worrying too much? TechCrunch seems to think so. “The worst one can say about the change is that it causes yet more overlap between Google services that people may not have requested,” Devin Coldewey states. “If you call that evil, you’ve forgotten what evil looks like.”