Google comes under fire after announcing unified Privacy Policy change

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Search engine giant Google is planning to merge all its users data and collect information into a single profile which can later alter the persons search results and target them with advertisements and services.

Starting this week, Google posted a notice on its homepage and also sent emails to its users. This change in terms of privacy and policy will take effect from 1 March, 2012. By this change, legal hurdles which Google had to face in combining information from its other services like YouTube and Gmail, would be removed.

However, the change in privacy policy has been criticised by privacy advocates who insist it could attract greater scrutiny from anti-trust regulators. But Google has cleared out by saying that the new privacy policy is being introduced under the demands of regulators, and users will understand what exactly the search engine does with their information.

Alma Whitten,Google’s director of privacy, product and engineering, said: If youve signed in, we may combine information youve provided from one service with information from other services.

Once this policy comes into effect, user information from all Google products like YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps, Google +, will be treated as a single secure data which the company would use for revenue generation and targeted advertisements.

However, Google insists users will still have the control over the information through privacy dashboard and Ads Preference Manager.

An article published in Washington Post has also raised concerns about the change in policy by Google and details of peoples private meetings which will become a well-maintained digital dossier. The article added that every confidential data discussed via Gmail will be transferred to Google Map without users consent.

Jeffery Chester, executive director of privacy advocacy group The Centre for Digital Democracy, told Washington Post: There is no way users can comprehend the implication of Google collecting across platforms for information about your health, political opinions and financial concern.

Meanwhile, Google has directed users on its home page to learn more on change in privacy, where it has mentioned that it will be getting rid of 60 different privacy policies and will be lot more easier to read.

COMBINED CRITICISM

With Google changing its privacy policy, there is an outcry from critics who accuse Google of abusing its dominance as a search engine giant to drive more traffic.

Andy Kellett,Ovum analyst, believes the changes can be controversial. Something I am interested in this week, I might not be interested next week. I use Googles facilities both as an individual and professional. Which bit are they going to give me back?” he wondered.

The main concern which Kellett is concerned about is that people do not have the option to opt out. If it simplifies things then that is positive, but it does appear to be a case of, if you dont like it, you have to walk away from it. Google has become the way of life for people. They cant do without it even if they dont like the direction it is going in,” said Kellett.

According to the The Open Rights Group, a onlinecampaign organisation, the merging of information into one will be a dangerous step. Peter Bradwell, campaign organiser asked: Does this simplicity come at the expense of strong boundaries between Google products. Will details that users thought might stay private would be revealed in unexpected ways?

Google has come under a major attack from anti-trust regulators because many corporate companies have accused their privacy for just attracting advertisers and earn revenue.

Google and Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement last year that forbids Google from misrepresenting and use of personal data from sharing without any approval. Company has claimed that it had contacted FTC about the privacy change policy. But FTC spokesperson declined to comment on this issue or on any such approval.

One Google product user criticised by saying: Google will soon know where you are (Google Phones), What are you watching (Google TV and YouTube), Where you live (Google Accounts), What your house looks like (Google Street View), Who your friends are, who you contact via email (Google mail), What you have purchased (Google Checkout), What you search on the Internet (Google Search) etc. Can you be sure that the information wont ever get into wrong hands?”

Ryan Calo, Director for Privacy at the Standford Centre for Internet and Society said: “Google is trying to make its privacy policy transparent instead of blogging users down with pages of legalese. The new privacy policy runs down to 10,000 pages from 68,000. If it creeps people out, then they need to be aware of that.

DEFENCE

However, with all criticisms from analysts and users, Google has defended itself by saying that there will be no privacy leak in the policy. There are varieties of ways people can use our services without information being tracked. Users can use search anonymously or in a logged out state. We support people logging in with multiple accounts simultaneously, so you can separate your information into multiple accounts. Google also offers data liberation – a way for you to take your data out of some or all of Google services. Moreover, Google offer Ads preference manager for people to control what ads they see. Googles new privacy policy stated that, as was the case before, When showing you tailored ads, we will not associate a cookie or anonymous identifier with sensitive categories, such as those based on race, religion, sexual orientation or health.” aGoogle spokesperson explained in a detailed statement.

With this change getting mixed reviews, Google’s fourth quarter earning has also come down 8% compared to previous year.

Sources: billboard, CNN, Guardian, CBC

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