Is Google Googling You?

Posted on March 9, 2012 01:40 by Chad Godwin

If you use the Google search engine (and I’m guessing that includes pretty much everyone) you may have noticed a text box appearing on the screen during the past couple weeks, imploring you to read Google’s new privacy disclosures, along with the caveat “this stuff matters.”  That text box stopped appearing on March 1, when Google introduced its new privacy policy.  According to Reuters, at the beginning of the year, Google began reporting that it was simplifying its privacy policy, consolidating 60 guidelines into a single policy that applies to all its services, including YouTube, Gmail and the social network Google+. 

According to the title of a Washington Post article, the “New privacy policy lets Google watch you – everywhere.”  More specifically, the new policy allows Google to track users’ activities by consolidating information it gathers on them across all of the company’s platforms.  Users cannot opt out of the new policy if they want to continue using Google’s services.  A company representative, Alma Whitten, noted that until now, the company has been restricted in their ability to combine YouTube search histories, for example, with other information on a user’s account (email activity).  Although the company claims that it does not sell or trade personally identifiable user information, it now shares usage habits and historical data across all platforms and uses the information to match ads to your online behavior .  Moreover, the fact that Google is gathering so much user specific information on individuals creates the potential for additional privacy implications in the future.  

The National Association of Attorneys General sent a letter to Google signed by 36 members expressing concern about the new policy.  In part, the letter noted:

Consumers have diverse interests and concerns, and may want the information in their Web history to be kept separate from the information they exchange via Gmail. Likewise, consumers may be comfortable with Google knowing their search queries but not with it knowing their whereabouts, yet the new privacy policy appears to give them no choice in the matter, further invading their privacy.

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding stated that data protection agencies in European countries have concluded that Google’s new privacy policy is in breach of European law.  Given the amount of attention the new privacy policy has generated, it appears as though it’s only a matter of time before the company faces its first significant legal challenge to the policy.  Until then, the digital footprint of all internet users will undoubtedly continue to grow.

Chad Godwin

Attorney

Carr Allison


 


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