Google's new privacy rules: Get over it already

Do you really think that Google, along with everyone else on the Web, hasn't been collecting your data for years now? Deal with it already.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Google actually makes controling your personal information easy.

Google actually makes controlling your personal information easy.

On March 1st, Google is going to combine its 70 different product-specific privacy policies and terms of service into one super-duper privacy policy. You'd think from all the screaming out there that Google was kicking in your door, ripping your credit cards out of your wallet, and taking your children hostage. Would everyone please chill already!

Here are some simple facts for you" Yes, Google, especially if you use a lot of their services, such as Google Docs, Gmail or Google+ knows a lot about you. If you just search a lot on Google, Google knows a good deal about what interests you. So what! It's been that way since day one. If you use any Internet service or Web site a lot they know a lot about you.

How do most "free" Web sites pay for themselves? With advertising. How do they know what to advertise to you? By watching what interests you. Google does it. Microsoft does it. Everyone does it.

You do know, for example, that Microsoft is starting to incorporate your Facebook friends into Bing? This, in turn, is a lot like Google's awkwardly named Search plus Your World. Both co-ordinate your search results with what your friends find interesting. Like I said, if you're on the Web, and you're not taking extreme privacy protection messages, the big companies are already watching you closely.

In fact, if some of the people in such a tizzy about Google actually read Google's privacy policies, they'd discover that Google has always collected and used your information. What? Did you think those ads on the pages that had some sort of relevance to you appeared by magic?

Indeed, since at least 2005, Google claimed the right to "Combine the information you submit under your account with information from other Google services or third parties in order to provide you with a better experience and to improve the quality of our services."

It seems Google didn't do that then, but they could have. Now, with more services than I can keep track of they've decided to officially combine all their user data. Why? Well, as they say in the draft of the new privacy agreement: "We use the information we collect from all of our services to provide, maintain, protect and improve them, to develop new ones, and to protect Google and our users. We also use this information to offer you tailored content - like giving you more relevant search results and ads. "

Is this really so dreadful that Google is finally bringing all this information together under one privacy policy umbrella? In fact since, unlike say Facebook where the privacy rules seem to change faster than Apple iPad 3 rumors, Google makes it easy to control what's what with your data with Google Dashboard.

If you don't like what Google knows about you, adjust your Dashboard settings. Don't like Google knowing about what you've been searching for? Go to your Google Web History page and hit the pause button, to keep it from grabbing any more of your searches, and then choose "Remove all Web history." Congrats. You're done.

The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), among others like the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) still think Google's new unified privacy policy is awful. I really don't get this. 70 policies are better than one how exactly? Be that as it may, the CDD wants the Federal Trade Commission to postpone the roll-out of Google's new privacy policies. They claim that the changes are not designed to make a users life easier but are meant to just to help Google compete against Facebook, incorporate social media data and to boost Google's advertising business.

To which I say, "So?" Google is a business. Of course they want to do all those things and make their users happy in the process. Does anyone not know that while Google's first business is search it makes the vast majority of its profits from advertising??

Is Google perfect? Nope. While I dismiss Microsoft's latest privacy charges against Google as being so much FUD. I am concerned about how Google handled the Safari Web browser's tracking cookies and its slow progress on its Google Plus pseudonym policy implementation. That said, I like having one privacy policy instead of seventy policies and that, besides Dashboard, Google puts all its privacy tools into one easy to access Privacy tools page.

In short to everyone having fits about big, bad Google and its new privacy ways I can only say wake up and smell the coffee people. If you're on the Internet you're being tracked. As my good friend Rob Pegoraro puts it on Discovery News, "Doing almost anything online requires some faith that strangers will protect your data as it traverses their servers. You don't have to trust Google, but you have to trust someone." I choose to trust Google.

Related Stories:

Google sugarcoated privacy policy changes to mislead users, group charges

Irreparable injury result if FTC fails to police Google, group tells court

Not so fast Microsoft! Google fires back at MS privacy claims.

FTC to Apple, Google: Prioritize privacy for children

Google's FTC privacy report unmasked

Editorial standards