Google's privacy policy doomsday goes ahead despite warnings

Google's privacy policy doomsday goes ahead despite warnings

Summary: March 1st: the start of a new month, and a new era in Google's history. A new privacy policy is set, but Google faces continued pressure from governments to roll back the decision.


In less than a year since Google rolled out its Facebook-competing social network, Google+, the search giant has stirred the international community with a new one-size-fits-all privacy policy.

It came into force today after weeks of complaints and warnings by authorities. Not everything is a plus, and Google continues to stir up trouble by seemingly putting advertisers' wants ahead of its users' needs.

The 'simplified' privacy policy now consolidates over 70 privacy documents into one, allowing signed in users to have their data shared from one Google product to another, even if they don't want to. Google Maps records are now kept with search results, and combine Google+ and Gmail searches, records, and uploaded information, and so on.

It not only makes government access to your data far easier, and while Google does not collect any more data on its users, the changes rolled out today on March 1st allows the company to build up a far greater picture of who you are as individuals.

It also gives Google the opportunity to raise the advertising stakes, allowing third-parties to target users more effectively, in an increasingly difficult advertising industry where Facebook and others continue to compete.

French data protection authorities began investigating the new privacy policy after it was thought to be in breach of Europe's data protection laws. Japanese authorities have also warned that the privacy policy could violate local laws, and seeks a clear explanation on the facts. South Korea also warned that its laws could be flouted in the move.

Collectively, the three markets constitute one of the largest cross-border violations of individual law by a technology giant we have seen in years.

And the laughable thing is that most governments or executive bodies can do nothing about it.

Much ado about nothing?

Google maintains that this move is one of simplification and ease, rather than a decision it made lightly. It also notes that its browser Chrome and mobile payments are separate and remain covered under different policies.

A letter from Google to Congress highlighted particular concerns for enterprise and government users of its Google Apps productivity suite.

Google Apps for Government, Education or Business users would be "unaffected" by the changes, as the company continues to "maintain our enterprise customers’ data in compliance with the confidentiality and security obligations provided to their domain," said Amit Singh, vice-president of Google Enterprise.

The enterprise is not where the money is, at least in terms of advertising revenue. The service is already paid for, and the company continues to generate streams of cash through from new and existing contracts. Ordinary users and end-consumers who sign up to Google's products and services do not pay, and therefore agree to have advertisements served based on the data they submit --- even if they do not know they are submitting it.

Google says they do not sell your personal information to advertisers, and maintains this. It does, but the wording is that it does not make "personally identifiable" information available to third-party advertisers without your permission.

There is no explicit consent sought, merely through its privacy policies and terms and conditions which are not read by the vast majority, but data is nevertheless still handed on. Just because it doesn't have your name on it does not mean it's any less of a violation.

Yet, this is something to be solved in the next iteration of Europe's data protection laws.

Under current EU law, there is no one set penalty or fine. Google could walk away from European authorities with a written slap on the wrist, and nothing more. New proposals set to revamp the data laws could see authorities fining companies up to 2 percent of its global annual turnover, but will not be in effect for years to come.

Click first, ask questions later

Google's response to the privacy policy changes was poor, and its method of informing users was even worse. In a small box that appeared on its search results page, or near to where Google advertises its Chrome browser, the search giant asked users to acknowledge the new privacy policy changes or to simply "dismiss" the warning.

The "dismiss" button should not have even been there. The vast majority of people would not have read the policy, as so many nowadays accept that these jargon-ridden documents are laden with legalese and complicated text, and can even read longer than the U.S. constitution.

It didn't stop the company from making a big deal out of other privacy matters, however. From mid-January, the search giant ran not only advertisements in U.S. national newspapers but on subways in New York and Washington D.C. also in a bid to 'educate' its users on issues of data security and privacy protection.

It was deemed disingenuous by privacy groups considering its own seemingly hypocritical move to combine its privacy policies into one.

From hereon in, there is almost no doubt that European authorities will continue to investigate. Other national governments will seek answers, and Google will all but inevitably be fined en masse by numerous executive national bodies to each respective country that wishes to make its position known.

But by then, it will already be too late, and the damage will already have been done to not only Google, but consumer confidence in the company. And as long as the 'ordinary person' on the street is the only one getting hurt, then Google doesn't seem to care.

Image source: Spencer E. Holtaway/Flickr.


Around the network:

Topics: Legal, Apps, Collaboration, Google, Social Enterprise

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Google and Privacy

    This is what happens when government and big business are in bed with each other..."makes government access to your data far easier" Google and the Obama administration (government) have been buddy, buddy for a long time! Don't expect our government to have a problem with it!
    • Google and Privacy...

      Thats it in a nutshell.
    • What does Obama have to do with it?

      Google has reached monopoly status and the government makes sure that status is not abused. Same for Microsoft. Same for AT&T. Same for Bell. Go read something other than Twitter then come back with an informed response.
    • stupid remarks

      you say the Obama administration. why only mention him? it was the corrupt supreme court that allowed corporations to be "people", not President Obama. buddy buddy? Koch bros and scott walker are good examples. mr. Soros is equally evil. Obama and the presidential admin are not in control. the supreme court is bought and paid for, and congress worries about birth control and taking away equal rights for women. blatant misogynist moves. now they want to force vasectomies on men. some people in San Francisco actually tried to outlaw circumcision. now maybe men will stand up and fight for themselves, helping women by accident.

      the bottom line is, the only people with power are the obscenely rich people who give obscene amounts of money to buy congress, the supreme court, and the president (any president), under the guise of corporate personhood. i'm so sick and tired of this lib/con bulls***, educate yourselves, for the love of dog. we all hate each other, can we just agree to that, and move on? we have a country to fix.
      • re: stupid remarks

        Amen to that!
  • Personal RESPONSIBILITY!!!

    The people who dismissed the notice... WHO CARES!!!
    I'm tired of this nanny treatment everyone gets. Take some responsibility people.
    This change in policy amounts to nothing.
    • A Challenge

      Stop using Google for searching and come back here and tell us how it went.
      • I'm not who you challenged...

        but I've done just that and, so far, search results have been fine. I switched to Bing last week and have no problems. I'm a medical transcriptionist so I need to use searches constantly for work to look up doctor's names, drug names, etc. Bing has worked as well as Google. For personal searches I've done, I notice Bing doesn't have Blogger results near the top of the search results -- I don't know if Google ranks Blogger higher or if Bing ranks it lower. It hasn't affected me negatively, yet anyway.

        When reading my analytics stats on my blog, of all the people who reach the blog via search, 5% get there by non-Google search engines. I'll be interested to see if that changes in the upcoming months.
      • Other search engines get the same results.

        I have found over the years that I get the same results on Yahoo that I do on Google. I believe Bing uses the Yahoo database as well. So why would I use a search engine that deliberately goes around my security settings to gather data on me? How long will it be before corporate IT centers start blocking access to Google because of these privacy policies that people do not have the legal right to accept on behalf of their employers?

        In the end this kind of privacy invasion will only help companies like Yahoo.
      • Goes pretty well, actually

        I get similar, if not identical, results with Yahoo search as I do Google. Both are free, so there's no extra cost for me.
      • Done and done


        Actually, I never did use Google. Always been a Yahoo! man, myself.

        There has been a longstanding myth that Google is the best search engine. It isn't, and it never has been.
        x I'm tc
      • Works pretty well!!

        I don't use any Google product. Have been using Bing quite successfully.

        BTW, Yahoo searches are powered by Bing, check out the bottom of the page of the search results :)
      • Challenge Over!

        It went just "Duckie" as the British say!
    • fear and terror

      this whole article talks about how google is being illegal and screwing over the consumer.
      how is anyone being screwed if google uses personally unidentifiable information for their own profit?
      so they want to make money to give me free stuff.....ok i'm fine with that. as long as they don't give my name and personal preference out i just don't care.
      besides this whole privacy deal is majorly fear mongering. and governments coming months later to fine google are just looking to capitilize on the situation and make a few bucks off of a seeming vulnerability
      • really?

        Do you know exactly what data they are providing? I didn't think so...
  • Google's privacy policy doomsday goes ahead despite warnings

    Just abandon all of Google's services. If they can't respect your privacy then you shouldn't be using them.
    Loverock Davidson-
  • Google Motto.

    Don't Be Evil. Oops, we meant Don't be Evil until we have the power to snub our noses at you.

    I'm glad I've kept my other mail addresses active, time to say goodbye to Gmail, and forget andriod, how can you trust that? I was hoping they'd make a plain andriod tablet free of Telephone providers, now I don't even want it.

    Disclaimer: I've don't own an Apple product.
  • Really Zack?

    [i]The ???dismiss??? button should not have even been there. The vast majority of people would not have read the policy, as so many nowadays accept that these jargon-ridden documents are laden with legalese and complicated text, and can even read longer than the U.S. constitution.[/i]

    Let's assume that they did this. It would have done absolutely nothing. They could put a giant popup that the user couldn't ignore and it would have done nothing. Because people, in general, don't read things like privacy policies and ToSs.
    • Maybe

      just maybe some techinical law-related attorneys might have read it and things might be different? just sayin'
  • Huh?

    Ok, really, did the author of this article even read the privacy policy and TOS for themselves?

    Did they read and understand every line of every one of the old policies?

    I don't really care if the new policy gives Google more rights or not (although I don't think it does), it makes it easy for me to understand exactly what they can and cannot do with my information.

    I am ok with what they can do with my information, I don't run national secrets and they are not taking my content for their own (although they can use it to make the service better, etc. and will share it, if I choose to allow them to do so), so I think it is a fair balancing act.