Google’s New Privacy Settings – What does it mean for us?

By Amanda Pecora, Intern

For the past few weeks, Google and YouTube have been putting up “ad-like” messages stating that their websites’ privacy policies are changing. Like thousands of other users, I haven’t even taken the time to look through the previous policy settings, so why should I start now? Well this new privacy policy has been creating major stir since the day it was announced. Many are arguing it is yet another personal invasion led by the Internet giant to expose even more details of a user’s life.  This overwhelming disagreement between these popular websites and government members has sparked my interest and enticed me to examine this new privacy policy.

The FTC and other regulatory agencies have been scrambling to search for a legal issue that Google has breached, but this billion dollar company doesn’t seem to have broken any laws. Despite pleas to postpone these changes, last Thursday marked the first day Google initiated their new privacy policy. Let’s break it down…

What does it mean for the average user?

The new privacy policy allows Google to compile user information from all of its sites such as Google+ and YouTube in order to target individual users’ interests and position pertinent advertisements. (In other words, the advertisements on the side of the computer screen that most users don’t even pay attention to, are now going to be ads that Google thinks we, as individuals, are interested in). For example, a user will search for something on Google and the developers will use that search information to generate relevant ads for when that same user goes on YouTube or browses the Internet on their Android phone.

Why the change?

Google once had over 60 different, individual policies and this creates one integrated policy that according to them is clearer and more distinct. Google has been stressing that it is not being creepy or invasive, but instead promoting an individualistic feel. Supposedly, not only the advertisements we see, but what we search will be targeted to our tastes as well. The lengthy policy basically gives an overview of what data is being collected and why.

Their company spokesperson stated, “Our privacy policies have always allowed us to combine information from different products with your account – effectively using your data to provide you with a better service. However, we’ve been restricted in our ability to combine your YouTube and Search histories with other information in your account. Our new Privacy Policy gets rid of those inconsistencies so we can make more of your information available to you when using Google.”

Why people are so upset?

The Electronic Privacy Information Center tried suing the Federal Trade Commission in order to scare them into prohibiting these changes due to the violation of privacy laws. The judge ruled that the courts did not have the power to force the FTC to regulate Google. Members of the European Union are extremely angry about this policy as they believe that it is a strict violation of their own data-protection rules. A letter was sent to Google’s CEO, Larry Page by a French agency, but as the new privacy policy launched on Thursday, we can see that the letter accomplished nothing. This agency has been making claims that Google only cares about advertising interests and should not have implemented these changes without real public understanding. The general public fears that since they are not able to accept or reject the new changes that their privacy will be compromised and Google won’t have control over user information, but CEO Larry Page has assured users that these changes are not as colossal as people are making them out to be.

After reading through the lengthy policy, it seems to me that Larry Page is right and SO FAR this doesn’t seem to affect users as deeply as people are saying. I believe its main purpose is so Google and their advertisers can target consumers’ specific tastes. Television stations have been taking the same approach based on shows we watch for the past few years as well. Even though I am not all too concerned with these changes, it is necessary to restrict the amount of information you let strangers know, especially since the Internet is such easy access. I have included a few tips to help keep as much personal information off the Internet as possible…

  • Enable a private browsing mode. This way your history won’t be tracked or stored and you can keep any unwanted information off Google’s grid.
  • Disable automatic password. Even though I have to admit I love eliminating the step of typing in a password all the time, this is just another way Google and other unwanted sources can access your information without trying. It’s such a simple way to make sure you aren’t allowing unwanted entry into your email, YouTube or Google+ account.
  • If you are really worried about these privacy settings, switch up your search engines. There are plenty out there to use. Ixquick is an example of a search engine that takes pride in being extremely private.
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