Google privacy policy: Who will be affected and how you can choose what information gets shared

January 27, 2012

Two days after Google announced sweeping changes to its privacy policy, analysts are weighing on who might be most affected by it. Cecilia Kang reports:

Google this week announced a shift in its privacy policies that will allow it to follow the activities of users as they move across the firm’s Web sites, including its highly popular YouTube, Gmail and main search engine. The company emphasized in interviews that the change would apply only to users who are signed on to their Google accounts.

The initiative could be of particular significance for consumers of Android devices, who are almost always signed on to their phones and tablets, experts said. Without signing up for an account, an Android smartphone owner would be limited in what he or she could do on the device, they said.

“I guess it’s theoretically possible to use an Android device without being logged on, but that wouldn’t be much of a smartphone,” said Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that advocates for free speech and privacy online.

The company said users who activate Android phones without signing into a Google account can make phone calls, browse the Web and use pre-installed applications. But they couldn’t use their Gmail, chat functions or download Angry Birds, Pandora or other applications from the Android Marketplace.

But Opsahl said that because Google account holders cannot opt out of the new policy, he fears that the company’s efforts to compile information about users won’t accommodate those who want to separate their personal and professional digital lives. The policy change also alarmed some lawmakers and consumer advocates.

In the light of the policy change, Hayley Tsukayama explains how to choose what you share with Google:

The search giant offers a couple of options on what information is associated with any given Google account. You can get an overview of all the data Google associates with your account by looking at the “Dashboard” option on your main Google account page. There’s a lot of information on this page, such as Android devices associated with the account, calendar information, contact information, Gmail history and records of activity on Google Music, Google Talk, Google Reader, Google Voice and social connections through Google contacts and chat.

You can edit some account preferences through this page, though other information, such as what Android devicesare associated with your account, can’t be edited.

Apart from the Dashboard, users can turn off the setting that allows Google to record their search history . This record logs all your search history and the results that you’ve clicked on from those queries. To get to this menu, head to the “privacy” menu from the top navigation bar you see when signed in to your Google account. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the button that says “Go to Privacy Center.”

From there, you can see Google’s current policy — the company has also put a notice at the top of the page with a link to its new policy — and you can head to the “Privacy tools” menu by clicking on that link and scrolling down to “Web History Controls.” From here, you can pause, edit or remove all Web History.

Columnist Joshua Topolsky says this change and other recent company decisions should have the firm rethinking its ‘Don’t be evil’ motto:

I don’t think anyone in our industry would knock Google for continuing to build its business and make money. And yes, we could all benefit from acknowledging that our concepts of “good” and “evil” aren’t always clear. But explaining away Google’s changes as simply a matter of differing perspectives wouldn’t address the real problem.

The real problem is that Google’s search policy shift and the change in its privacy policies suggest a shift in core values at the company — values you didn’t need a road map to figure out a few years ago. Those were values that placed the user first and stood in stark contrast to monopolistic practices of companies like Microsoft in the 1990s.

They were Google Values, and they felt right. They felt good.

If Google can’t see how perverse some of its decisions look today by comparison, maybe it’s time to rethink the company motto.

More from The Washington Post:

FAQ: Google's new privacy policy

Google faces backlash

How to close your Google account

Google to track consumers across products

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