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Google's new privacy policy starts today, here's what you should know

Google's controversial new privacy policy goes into effect today, and depending on which part of the Internet you're in, it's either a blessing or an act of war against our personal information. There's a lot of confusion out there, and chances are anyone who says they understand it all are probably not being very truthful. We're going to try and go over what's changed, and discuss what it might mean. 

Something to remember before we get started, is that it doesn't really matter what any of us think -- all of us. Legislators all over the world are up in arms, and they're going to do what legislators do best, which is debate issues until one side caves and one side wins. We don't know which side will be which, or if Google will be censured in any way. Time will tell.

We're going to assume you've read Google's new privacy policy before we continue. If you haven't, stop and do so here. It's generally a good idea to read and understand as best you can before you decide if something is good or bad.

What's new

Let's start by talking about how Google is consolidating privacy policies from different services and bundling it into one policy that covers them all. I think this is the biggest part of the problem, because now all the information that Google has been collecting is there on one page, staring you in the face. Google also "simplified" the wording and cut out most of the legalese, which means we understand more of what they are doing with it. Finally, they have said that their services will now share user data between them internally. This is what most people are up in arms about, but the other two reasons I mentioned are important as well. When you lay it all out, in language everyone will understand, it's a bit overwhelming. Many folks never realized just what was being collected, and now that they know they're not very happy about it. We can say they should have always known, as the information has always been available, but it was written in complicated language and spread across 60 different sites. 

But Google is sharing my data!

Back to the part where Google shares your data. It's important to know that Google isn't collecting anything new. In their letter to the US Congress (PDF link) they explain:

We’re not collecting any new or additional data about users. Our updated privacy policy simply makes it clear that we use data to refine and improve our users’ experiences on Google – whichever services they use. This is something we have already done for a long time for many of our products.

The difference is that Google will use the data across their services. They don't sell it, instead they leverage that data into profit. They can target you with ads you're more likely to care about, and that's worth a lot of money to advertisers themselves. Google's not giving away their gold mine of data to anyone. Instead, data collected during a Google search can be used to show ads in other Google products. Like Gmail. We've all seen those ads in our Gmail inbox. It's easy to see this in action. Your contact data is referenced and you get search results of things your contacts have posted on the Internet. If you have a friend on Google+ or Blogger, search for something they have posted recently on Google, you'll see those results first.

Unless you turn it off.

Opting out or controlling what's shared

That hasn't changed either. Google Gives you ways to opt-out and control what they are collecting from you. We're going to assume these tools work, or someone more well versed in privacy would have called Google to the carpet over it by now.  Here's what Google suggests you can do, direct from their new privacy statement:

  • Review and control certain types of information tied to your Google Account by using Google Dashboard.
  • View and edit your ads preferences, such as which categories might interest you, using the Ads Preferences Manager. You can also opt out of certain Google advertising services here.
  • Use our editor to see and adjust how your Google Profile appears to particular individuals.
  • Control who you share information with.
  • Take information out of many of our services.

Those links are intact, have a look at them. The tools aren't perfect, and they're a bit confusing, but they do give you a way to hold back from Google a good bit. But there's another, easier way to to keep Google from collecting your data. Don't sign in to any of their services. 

That sounds extreme, but it's simple. If you're not signed in, Google has no idea who you are to cross-pollinate your data. It's not convenient, especially with an Android phone, but it's certainly possible. We tried it. Stock Android with none of the Gapps installed works just fine, you just don't get to use the great apps from Google -- which is why none of us want to do it. Google services aren't free, you just pay with data instead of money. 

Should we worry?

The general feeling here around the office is that what Google has done is a good thing consolidating it's legal mumbo-jumbo into a single, easier to read document. Make no mistake, we're not saying that collecting all the data they collect is something that makes us comfortable, but presenting it to us in a way we can understand, and debate, is the right move. 

In the end, all of us here already knew that Google was collecting a little bit of everything, and decided to sell them our soul anyway. The new policy lets us know how right (or wrong) we were. That's what you're going to have to do as well. Understand that Google collects information, then keeps it on file so they can target your interests with "personalization" across their products. They don't sell or give it away to anyone because that data is their cash cow. It's also not sitting there on some product manager's computer desktop in a file with your name on it. It's more likely that your personal data is a big bunch of unintelligible (for people anyway) strings of numbers and letters that only a computer can sort out. But it's there, and they let you know what's there. 

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Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • This should be posted everywhere. Well-written, Jerry. To me, the most important thing people need to know is that their data is on Google's servers, yes. However, a human being can't just walk in, sign on to the computer and pull up a file with your name on it and see everything you've ever done on the internet. Go through Google's policies, opt out of the things you don't want to be a part of, sign out of Google when you aren't using a specific service if that makes you more comfortable, and just be conscious of the fact that everywhere you go online, any given website is most likely keeping track of what you're doing. So just be mindful when you use the internet. These aren't new concepts, but Google's policy changes have certainly brough them back into the limelight.
  • I thought it was well written too, and you can see his thought process change in the course of the article; from indignant and violated, to guarded acceptance. “Such subtlety . . .” said Slartibartfast, “one has to admire it.”
  • i would like to lock down everything from public visibility. i am relatively tech savvy but even i am confused and think i might be missing something. Facebook's privacy "dashboard" seems much simpler and easier. of course, Google is a much bigger, involved universe.
  • While it's impossible to lock down all of your information without removing yourself from the internet entirely, there are ways to reduce your footprint. Use inPrivate browsing, or incognito mode in your browser. This prevents cookies from being saved, and so forth, as well as not keeping you logged into website once you close the browser. Go through the privacy settings of the websites you use regularly that you have to log into (ie: Google services, Facebook, MySpace, etc) and turn off or opt out of any that you aren't comfortable with. Don't put any more information online then you want online. Just because Facebook gives you the option to list your address doesn't mean you have to. And as I mentioned in my previous comment, just be mindful when you're out and about on the internet. What things are you signing up for? What information do they require? How do they store/use that information? Do you really need to log into every website with your Facebook account? Things of that nature.
  • I trust Google to do what they say they do with my data. They are very up front about exactly what they will do and they provide controls that really do work. I don't trust Facebook. Anyone who does is totally naive. I haven't drunk the Koolaid as deeply as the guy over at SFGate but the fact that Google uses my info only to show me interesting ads seems like a fair trade for all the services I get from Google. If they continue to live up to their promises I'll continue sip the Koolaid (slowly). I could make a STRONG case that Google's model should be MANDATORY for ALL sites that you sign into. The open-ness and degree of control should be required. Hey, Jerry: When does AC come clean about everything they know about us? The AC "dashboard" looks a tad sparse...
  • So no more searching for the anarchists cookbook?!? LOL
  • I noticed something strange with google+ this morning. Although I never listed the info, my cell and home numbers are now part of my google + profile. Now that is pretty scary.
  • Not surprising at all though. Gmail has been pestering me for months (maybe years) to give it a cell number in case I forget my password. I always opt out. If Google can share that data across services it is right there. It should be just as private and secure as your email address or whatever though. I think it strikes people as odd seeing that information in front of them without having to go into settings or whatever now though.
  • Not only have they bugged you to get it, you probably gave it to them for your Google Voice account.
  • In fact I did. I suppose I will not get bugged in gmail anymore.
  • Times like these I am glad I am a nobody. I don't even have a Google+ or Facebook account so I am not too worried...
  • You have a gmail account. You have a market account. You should march right over to your Google Dashbboard and see exactly what they have on you. I'm not saying its bad, just pointing out that not having a G+ account does not mean they know less about you.
  • All Google made services runs on single account, whatever you use gmail or anything other you in same system that runs G+
  • I find it highly ironic that many who complain about the privacy policy changes are at the same time willingly posting personal information on their social networking pages! D'OH
  • I think the big stink is mainly caused by people that have little understanding of technology. Google had all of you data anyway. So what if one property can now see the data from the other. They are all owned by the same company and who knows they were probably doing it anyway. Hell what do you think ProtoBuff is for? Its just a bunch of people up in arms because privacy and policy change were used in the same sentence. So YouTube can now see what you search for in Google searches. Who cares? Meanwhile Twitter is selling your old tweets.
  • Google has known everything you have done for years. It is just scary to see it all listed in one dashboard instead of dozens of different places. The rumor is that Google has to have a consolidated policy like Apple's when Google launches their new voice commands app.
  • Apple's policy doesn't come close to Google's in terms of openness and user control.
  • I've opted out of both Ads in Gmail and on the web a while ago but I still see ads in both places. Can anyone tell me why?
  • You've opted out of having the ads be targeted towards you specifically. That is a far cry from opting out of ads. Android Central controls the placement of ads on this page. Its how they pay the bills. The sell the space to ad companies. Those ad companies push ads to the space allocated. Most of the time those companies know the content of the page, and can tailor ads to that content even when they don't know anything about you. When you opt out of ads, all you do tell google not target the ads to the content of the individual email you are reading.
  • Pretty much confirmed what i was already thinking... EVERYONE IS FN STUPID that they are so in arms about this. from day 1 that this was announced i was thinking it was GERAT!! And they give you the control.. everyone just need to STFU and move on... this is a good thing IMO.
  • This post is exactly why I check this site a half dozen times a day. Thanks Jerry.
  • Yikes! First time I took a look at my Google dashboard. It's a little startling to see things like all the searches you've ever performed. But it's also empowering to have the power to behold it and tweak it as necessary. Viva la Google.
  • Does this mean our bootloaders will be unlocked?
  • I just looked at what google has about me and it's not much. LOL! The last record of me being on the internet was on Dec. 18 2011. I can deal with that. Maybe they are just slow as they always are. HA
  • It's simply unrealistic to try to run an Android phone without associating it to a GMail account. I just verified, as I do every so often, that the Dashboard for that account is empty (no contacts, no E-mails, no calendar entries, no Web history, profile invisible), but I know that other information, e.g. about my use of Google Maps on various phones, has to be stored somewhere, and the Dashboard does not reveal it. Google can whitewash the matter to their heart's content, but having them following me around gathering data is still creepy. We wouldn't tolerate it in RS, but for some reason it is considered standard practice online.
  • Thanks Jerry. I opted the #### out of it. :)
  • Ads? What ads? #AdBlock Plus I'm glad Google is using my data wisely. Bring on better services and relevant (cough) ads (cough) wha?
  • Good article. Like you said, Google's apps are amazing. And they are going to want something in return. Do I prefer data to money? Probably. My life ain't exciting enough to worry about who is following it.
  • I am not getting spam in Gmail. And adds off on the side rarely catch my eye. I usually zoom the page to just see what I am reading, and never even see the adds.
    Though I am signed in, I don't really worry too much about what Google knows about me. I expect that they keep it safe, and are not actually looking at more detail than they need to sell me something.
    I have never seen an add for "MILF Porn" so I expect they don't care about every little thing I do ;-)
  • If Google allows users full control of our data how come we can not delete an Android device from our accounts and how come we can not delete Android Apps from our accounts?