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Google privacy policy is subject of backlash

One day after it announced a sweeping change to its privacy policy, Google is facing some heat for the decision. Hayley Tsukayama reports:

Google’s announcement that it is sharing more user data across its services has already raised the hackles of privacy advocates, technology writers and caught the attention of at least one national data-protection agency.

On Tuesday, the search giant announced that it was placing 60 of its Web services under a unified privacy policy that would allow the company to share data between any of those services. (Google Books, Google Wallet and Google Chrome are excluded due to different regulatory and technical issues.) Any user with a Google account — used to sign in to services such as Gmail, YouTube and personalized search — must agree to the policy. Users who don’t want to have their data shared have the option to close their accounts with Google.

Some praised the company for being so open about the changes, including European Commissioner for Justice Vivian Reding. Reding, vice president of the EC, is the continent’s leading advocate for laws on Internet privacy and data protection, and said Google’s move was a step in the right direction.

“Google was quick. Even before the Commission decided on the new European law, Google made the first step in the direction of new privacy rules. I can only applaud the direction," she said in a statement.

But not having the right to choose what information is shared between services is the source of a great deal of criticism. In remarks to The Washington Post’s Cecilia Kang, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said that he thinks it is “imperative” that users have control over what information they want to have shared between the services Google offers.

Others saw the decision as a sign that there’s been a shift in the company culture at Google. Danny Sullivan, a technology blogger and expert in search, said that the change is just a logical step in Google’s move toward becoming a Web portal.

“It’s similar to how you sign up for Facebook, rather than individual products within Facebook,” he said.

What exactly does the new policy entail, and how will it affect your user experience? Hayley Tsukayama reports:

What is Google doing?: In a nutshell, Google is taking information from almost all of your Google services — including Gmail, Picasa, YouTube and search — and integrating the data so that they can learn more about you. Google Books, Google Wallet and Google Chrome will retain their own additional policies, partly for legal reasons, but Google could still integrate data from these services.

What kind of information are they collecting and integrating?:

Google collects and can integrate almost anything that’s already in the Google ecosystem: calendar appointments, location data, search preferences, contacts, personal habits based on Gmail chatter, device information and search queries, to name a few.

Can they do that?: Well, under the company’s current privacy policies for some of its properties, Google says it can “combine the information you submit under your account with information from other Google services or third parties in order to provide you with a better experience and to improve the quality of our services.” The privacy policies for YouTube and search history, however, did not have such language. Now they do and the company has now made its ability to combine information across these and its other services more explicit.

Why is Google doing this?: Google says it will be able to do a lot more “cool things” when it combines information across products. There’s “so much more that Google can do to help you” if you share your information with them.

Give me an example.: From Whitten’s blog post: Google will be able to “provide reminders that you’re going to be late for a meeting based on your location, your calendar and an understanding of what traffic is like that day.”

Interesting. Tell me more: Also from Whitten: Google will be able to “ensure that our spelling suggestions, even for your friends’ names, are accurate because you’ve typed them before.”

When do the changes take effect?:March 1.

Can I opt-out?: No.

Bloomberg News rounds up some of the specific complaints leveraged against the tech firm:

Data-protection agencies in Ireland and France said they would assess the implications of the push. At least one consumer-advocacy group fretted that the policy -- which makes it easier for Google to target advertisements to specific groups -- might tie users’ hands and make it harder for them to limit what the company can do with their information.

“This announcement is pretty frustrating and potentially frightening from a kids and family and teenager standpoint and an overall consumer privacy standpoint,” said James Steyer, chief executive officer of San Francisco-based Common Sense Media.

Regulators took umbrage when Google unveiled changes to its search engine earlier this month, making user information from its social-networking service available in search results. Rivals such as Twitter Inc. said the shift would favor a Google product -- namely, Google+ -- over other information on the Web.

More from The Washington Post:

How to close your Google account

ComPost: Don't be creepy, Google

Google to track consumers across products

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