Sunday, January 29, 2012

Google Changes Will Impact Your Online Privacy

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Google announced on its blog that as of March 1 you will need to agree with its new privacy policies to use its services (Gmail, Calendar, YouTube, Google+ and much more) with the exception of Google Books, Google Wallet and Google Chrome. Google says these changes will unify its more than 70 privacy policies across its product line and to streamline your experiences. You do not have the option to opt out of the changes.

In many ways, this allows you to learn more about what Google “knows” about you. Google can see the content of your emails if you use Gmail, where you like to visit if you use Google Maps and if you have enabled GPS information on your Android phone your precise location throughout the day.

Many of us use Google’s many services and the price we pay is to allow our information to be analyzed so that more targeted ads can reach us. We have to admit that Google is not providing all these free tools out of the goodness of its heart, but it is a for-profit, very large and successful company.

Where this is troubling is that many of us have no choice but to use Google products. Many universities and government institutions use Gmail as their email service provider. This personally identifying data may not be shared with third parties, frankly our data is Google’s valued asset, but with a subpoena Google may provide information with local, state or federal agencies. You don’t have to be paranoid about this data collection, credit card issuers and insurance companies also track this type of data, but you should inform yourself on the policies.

I read the FAQs, the Transparency Report including U.S. data, their Policies and then I went to my Dashboard to see what Google has gleaned from my use of its products (they also have a Dashboard video on YouTube). Things I had forgotten about were there, things that I was surprised to see and things that I didn’t realize I hadn’t set stricter privacy settings. I also learned that Google was right about where I lived, that I liked books, music and technology but it had determined that I was most likely a male between the ages of 39 and 44. As a 45-year-old woman, that amused me but it showed that even Google’s massive algorithms were not always correct.

I use Facebook, I use Google, I will continue to do so even without the option of opting out. I tightened my privacy settings and I will find alternatives to the Google Calendar and Gmail. I highly recommend that you should take the time to think about these things for yourself as well.


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