Google's new privacy policy: Washington's misguided interrogation

Google's new privacy policy: Washington's misguided interrogation

Summary: Even though the new policy doesn't change how Google operates, lawmakers are using it as a springboard into an inquiry over user privacy.

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I have to admit that I didn't really get too excited when I heard last week that Google was updating its privacy policy. After all, companies do that kind of stuff all the time - credit card companies send notices in the mail all the time to inform their customers that new policies will soon go into effect while Internet companies produce a pop-up window and force users to click on agree or terminate the company-customer relationship.

Think about it: none of these companies ask their customers if the changes are OK or if they'd like to opt-out of certain parts of it. And frankly, with all of the legal blah blah blah that bog down these policies, no one is really going to read any of it anyway. Right? I mean, let's be honest. Who here is really taking the time to read through all of the terms and policies before signing up for a new service, downloading an app or installing an update?

So along comes Google, consolidating something like 60 different privacy policies - many of which have overlapping terms and conditions - into one master policy, something that lays it all out in terms of how Google properties are connected, the type of data that's collected, how and why that data is shared among the different properties, how users can manage their personal private settings or opt-out of certain features and how some services don't even require a Google account to use.

That's a lot of information - and it's written without all of the legal jargon. It's written so that anyone can understand it. And, yet, in Washington, lawmakers continue to prove that when it comes to technology, they still don't get it.

Over the past few days, there's been a back-and-forth exchange between Google and a bipartisan group of lawmakers over the policy change, sparked by concern that Google is making these changes so that it can sell better-targeted ads. Gasp! Imagine the nerve of Google, wanting to expose their users to advertising for stuff they might actually care about. How dare Google try to offer enhanced and customized services for their users? Shame on Google for doing all of this as a way to bring in more revenue and deliver a better rate of return for its shareholders.

And certainly Washington can't be at all happy with Google for doing what it hasn't been able to do - consolidate a complex set of rules, policies, terms and conditions from a cumbersome and inefficient set of documents into something that's manageable, easy to follow and definitely more efficient. Perhaps lawmakers might want to tap Google for some advice when it comes time to revamp the tax code. Just sayin'...

But I digress. The bigger point I'm trying to make is that the Washington lawmakers are showing their lack of business understanding by launching an email interrogation over something like a change to a privacy policy. The policies themselves didn't really change - and Google has been beyond clear about that. Google isn't suddenly collecting a new set of data or now starting to hand out a user's personal information to spammers. Sharing of information across Google properties has already been happening - and frankly, it's made my user experience that much better.

Who cares if Google has visions of how they can use that information in more ways to create new services or charge more for advertising. If Google suddenly decides to start using the information for some new service, one that makes users squeamish about their privacy, then users can revolt by not using the service. Google will get the hint pretty quickly. Remember Buzz?

Here's the bigger point: If Washington has a problem with the way Google is collecting, using and sharing data, then Washington should launch an investigation of Google's business practices and make a determination about whether or not government intervention is necessary. Instead, in an election year, some lawmakers are raising red flags over a change to the privacy policy and questioning - loud enough for their constituents to hear - why Google doesn't let people opt-out of the changes.

That's just wrong - especially since Google (and any other online service, for that matter) has the ultimate opt-out feature. Those who don't like how Google does business don't have to use Google's products or services. Microsoft continues to offer its Bing search engine as an alternative to Google, though it's worth noting that Google search, like YouTube, doesn't require a Google account. Yahoo has mail, maps and a calendar. And Android certainly isn't the only smartphone OS on the market.

At the end of the day: Washington lawmakers are trying to turn a non-issue into a bigger deal than it should be. Here's an idea: If Washington wants to start questioning an industry that regularly makes changes to its privacy policies, then start with the banks. Based on what's been happening with home foreclosures and Occupy protests, it's probably safe for lawmakers to assume that their constituents are more concerned about how the banks continue to impact our lives and less bothered by a change to the privacy policy of a company that wants to connect a YouTube account with a user's search history so it can offer a more customized experience.

Previous coverage: Google's new privacy policy: The good, bad, scary

Topics: Google, Banking, Collaboration

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  • RE: Google's new privacy policy: Washington's misguided interrogation

    " Those who don???t like how Google does business don???t have to use Google???s products or services" Perhaps, but I know of a Web site I visit often and I have never Googled it. Yet when I visit my favourite weather site I get advertising for the other site I visit often. I did not use Google's products or services, yet I am still receiving targeted ads. That's a bit too much.
    themarty
    • RE: Google's new privacy policy: Washington's misguided interrogation

      @themarty THis article could have been coming out of Google's PR.
      mm71
      • RE: Google's new privacy policy: Washington's misguided interrogation

        @mm71 get real
        ken@...
    • RE: Google's new privacy policy: Washington's misguided interrogation

      @themarty that's almost certainly a cookie being left by the other site, and an issue you should take up with them, not Google.
      hdgnet
      • RE: Google's new privacy policy: Washington's misguided interrogation

        @hdgnet

        No, it's more likely the site is using "Google Analytics".
        Lerianis10
    • RE: Google's new privacy policy: Washington's misguided interrogation

      @themarty

      With all due respect, you might want to look at the javascript on the website you use. You just MIGHT be using their services without knowing it because the "Google Analytics" is used by that other site you go to.
      Lerianis10
      • RE: Google's new privacy policy: Washington's misguided interrogation

        @Lerianis10 Irrelevant. If I had no knowledge about computers and was just a normal Web user (what is Javascript? what is Google Analytics?) I would still find it upsetting. I like Google, but this is a bit too far.
        themarty
      • RE: Google's new privacy policy: Washington's misguided interrogation

        @Lerianis10 If a site is using a Google Application, then its the sites responsibility to notify the users in their TOS agreement. If not you can't blame Google. They don't own the site using their services.
        abarbaneld@...
      • RE: Google's new privacy policy: Washington's misguided interrogation

        @Lerianis10 Meanwhile, in the page of this website I see five of my Facebook friends with posts all about a ZDNet article, and I'm not even logged in. Even worse, there's two ads in my own language! ZDNet has their own analytic service that's tracking my every move on their webpage!
        jkltechinc
    • privacy policy of those sites?

      @themarty
      Did you read the privacy policy of the two sites you went to? You are complaining that you went to two "free" sites, didn't ready or understand the terms of using those sites and want to complain about it?

      Use noscript if you want to cut down on this type of thing or stop using sites that don't respect your privacy.
      zdnet-registraion
      • RE: Google's new privacy policy: Washington's misguided interrogation

        @zdnet-registraion The sites are not free sites, one is a site offering vacations (that I would need to pay for if I decided to go to one), the other is irrelevant, the other a weather site offered by some news site. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying that it's a bit too much here.

        If I'm a non-techy, what is noscript? How do I know if a free site (aren't all sites free???) is not respecting my privacy if I visit it only once?
        themarty
    • The Nets Tubes ....

      @themarty

      " Those who dont like how Google does business dont have to use Googles products or services"

      Not so. (I know you're quoting the article)

      I'm a University student and the University has contracted with Google for Gmail and the University sent mail through the service to inform us we have no expectation of privacy in my Gmail account. Not from Google but from the University.
      rmhesche
      • That's the university, not Google

        @rmhesche Again, people, you are blaming google for offering a service that these other sites/companies have contracted with Google to use.

        In your case, the university it telling you that because you are using a service they are providing you, they have chosen to maintain access to all data. This has NOTHING to do with Google. The Google Apps system works in such a way, no different than if the services were hosted by the University, where administrators can access all data. This is no different than when you start a job, etc... Your admins have the access, not Google.

        If you don't want to use google services, DON'T. You don't have to go to that univsersity, you don't have to take that job, you don't have to do anything in this world other than pay taxes and die.

        If you're concerned about a company you do business with (access their website, etc) is using google services, read the TOS, contact them, etc.

        For example, I block facebook 100% because I don't trust that company after a legal issue I had with them when they stole some copyrighted property of mine. Websites that use any facebook services, are websites I can't and won't use. My choice.
        mschauber
    • Know the facts before you complain

      @themarty That's an issue to take up with the sites you visit, not Google. The fact that those sites use Google Analytics or AdWords, etc, is not Google's fault.

      All websites use things like graphic tagging, cookies, url referals, to track where you have been. If you go from site A to site B, site B will record the referring url, which is the site you were last on. That data is used for targeted advertising.
      mschauber
    • RE: Google's new privacy policy: Washington's misguided interrogation

      After Google influenced washington with the blackout this is revenge, most politicians are corrupt and don't like to be told what to do. Google did ! Go Google !
      ottrw
      • Re; . . .and don't like to be told what to do. Google did !

        @ottrw
        Some politicians may feel they have a sore toe or two, so this sounds like a plausible explanation.
        hkommedal
    • RE: Google's new privacy policy: Washington's misguided interrogation

      @themarty

      http://noscript.net/
      AAC Tech
  • RE: Google's new privacy policy: Washington's misguided interrogation

    Fanboy article...

    what @themarty said is very correct. Google is pushing its filth everywhere.
    owlnet
    • RE: Google's new privacy policy: Washington's misguided interrogation

      @owlnet

      No, they aren't. It's more likely that the site that he went to has an agreement with Google to use their "Google Analytics" service.
      Lerianis10
      • RE: Google's new privacy policy: Washington's misguided interrogation

        @Lerianis10

        The point is: it's Google's collection of unauthorized data and lack of respect for the individual that enables this type of invasion of privacy. I.o.w. Google has created the platform that other's are tapping into. All without the user's sanction. Does this make them evil? Betcha.
        maxdev@...