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By 23 February 2012 | Categories: news

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Google has found itself the subject of criticism over an impending change to its privacy policy. The new policy, which will come into effect at the beginning of next month, will apparently unite all of the company’s policies into a single one, according to PC Mag.
 
The concern inherent in this move is that the company may then automatically share any and all information entered into one of its products by users with all of its products.   
 
In a letter to Google chief executive officer Larry Paige, the National Association of Attorney’s General in the US expressed “strong concerns” about the move, citing that the new policy effectively forces users to allow content to be shared between YouTube, Gmail and Google Maps, for example, “without giving them the proper ability to opt out.”
 
Concerns voiced
 
The Association went on to elaborate that people have diverse interests and concerns, and may want the information in their web history to be kept separate from the information they exchange via Gmail.  
 
“Likewise, consumers may be comfortable with Google knowing their Search queries but not with it knowing their whereabouts, yet the new privacy policy appears to give them no choice  in the matter, further invading their privacy,” stated the letter.  
 
The letter further slammed Google, stating that “It rings hollow to call their ability to exit the Google products ecosystem a “choice” in an Internet  economy where the clear majority of all Internet users use – and frequently rely on – at least one Google product on a regular basis.”
 
Policy explained
 
According to Alma Whitten, director of Privacy, Product and Engineering for Google, treating users as a single user across all its products will result in a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.
 
On the official Google blog, she explains that the company’s recently launched personal search feature was a good example of the “cool things” Google can do when it combines information across products, such as providing a search box with the ability to return results not just from the web, but from user’s “personal stuff” as well.
 
“So if I search for restaurants in Munich, I might see Google+ posts or photos that people have shared with me, or that are in my albums. Today we can also do things like make it easy for you to read a memo from Google Docs right in your Gmail, or add someone from your Gmail contacts to a meeting in Google Calendar.
 
But there’s so much more that Google can do to help you by sharing more of your information with … well, you. We can make search better—figuring out what you really mean when you type in Apple, Jaguar or Pink,” she enthused.
 
Whitten stressed that the company does not sell its users’ personal information, and pledged that the company would not share personal information externally without a user’s permission, except in “very limited circumstances” such as when compelled to with a valid court order.
 
“We try hard to be transparent about the information we collect, and to give you meaningful choices about how it is used,” she continued.
 
Some unconvinced
 
Even so, according to the Washington Post, the move has been met by its fair share of scepticism.
 
The Post quoted Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Centre for Digital Democracy, a privacy advocacy group as warning that there was “no way a user can comprehend the implication of Google collecting across platforms for information about your health, political opinions and financial concerns.”
 
To the point
 
Bearing in mind both the rationale behind the change, and the concerns raised by the Attorney General’s, the question arises whether the privacy policy change truly is as nefarious as its being made out to be, or whether the objections are merely a storm in a teacup.

Perhaps more disturbingly, it may be a bit of both. Either way privacy, whether intentionally or not, may end up being the unwitting casualty of a well meaning move. 

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