"Streamlined" Google privacy policy and terms of service coming March 1st

The new, streamlined Google privacy policy and terms of service arrive on March 1st, bringing with them a slew of new questions over Google's customer data collection practices.
Written by Matt Weinberger, Contributor

Come March 1st, Google is collapsing its more than 60 different product-specific privacy policies and terms of service into one overhauled, streamlined document that more accurately reflects the search giant's priorities. That's important, as Google continues to turn its disparate cloud applications into a unified platform. The problem is that one of those "priorities" is the controversial, much-maligned social "Search plus Your World" initiative.

If you really want to dig deep, Google's put up the current revision of the new privacy policy and terms of service for public review. And at first glance, it really does seem like a vastly simplified and less legalese-filled way of explaining how Google does and doesn't use your information. There's an FAQ which confirms that no, Google still won't sell your information to third parties and yes, you're beholden to them come March 1st unless you close your account.

But it's this bit, on the topic of "What should I expect to see change as a result of this?" that tells the tale:

Over time you can expect to see better search results, ads and other content when you’re using Google services. A more consistent user experience across Google might mean that we give you more accurate spelling suggestions because you’ve typed them before. Or maybe we can tell you that you’ll be late for a meeting based on your location, your calendar and the local traffic conditions. Google users still have to do too much heavy lifting, and we want to do a better job of helping them.

On the one hand, this seems like a fairly natural extension of what Google's already been doing with its product line - for better or for worse, as ZDNet's own Larry Dignan has noted, Google's tracking you and everything you do while you're logged in. This privacy policy doesn't really change that, it just makes the fact that Google is always watching far more explicit. If you want to see what Google has on you, the Google Dashboard is a good bookmark to keep.

But reading between the lines, that reference to "better search results" makes it pretty clear that Google's new privacy policy is designed to facilitate that "Your World" initiative to use Google+ (and only Google+) social data when you search. Google is committed to making Google+ the glue that holds its platform together, and this privacy policy only reinforces that approach.

Some products will be keeping their own privacy policies, Google says. Google Wallet, for example, is prone to outside industry-specific privacy laws that can't reasonably be covered by one streamlined policy. Meanwhile, Google Chrome's separate privacy agreement is designed to go a lot more in-depth into the browser's specific privacy questions.

Finally, Google says that if you don't like it, well, there's always Google Takeout - you're welcome to take your data with you on the way out.

No doubt, this is going to provide plenty of fodder for Google's critics as the search giant explains in plain English exactly how it's going to keep an eye on your online life. But again, it's really not that big a change - Google-as-Big-Brother isn't a recent development, though the Google+ integration has brought the argument right back to the forefront.

I'll be curious to watch the discourse on Google's new privacy policy and terms of service between now and the March 1st implementation.

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