Google sent me an email last week. It read:
“Dear Google user,
We’re getting rid of over 60 different privacy policies across Google and replacing them with one that’s a lot shorter and easier to read. Our new policy covers multiple products and features, reflecting our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google.”
Maybe what it should have said was:
Dear Google user,
Forget everything we told you in the past about respecting your privacy. Whatever you do via any of our portals from now in will be ours to use any way we like. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else. Oh, by the way, there’s nowhere else to go because we have either put most of our competitors out of business or acquired them. Remember how we used to say “don’t be evil” – forget all that, we are so big now we can do whatever we like.”
“Our new policy reflects a single product experience that does what you need, when you want it to. Whether you’re reading an email that reminds you to schedule a family get-together or finding a favorite video that you want to share, we want to ensure you can move across Gmail, Calendar, Search, YouTube, or whatever your life calls for with ease.”
What if you don’t want all these things linked up? Whatever happened to spontaneity, anonymity and good old privacy? “If you’re signed into Google, we can do things like suggest search queries – or tailor your search results – based on the interests you’ve expressed in Google+, Gmail, and YouTube. We’ll better understand which version of Pink or Jaguar you’re searching for and get you those results faster.” But I don’t want that to happen. What if I have a Google+ persona that is different to my YouTube and Gmail personas? I don’t even want Gmail but I am forced to have a ‘Gmail identity’ so that everything else can be linked to it.
Translated to Plain English, that means that I am no longer anonymous. Everything I do via Google will be tracked back to me via my name, email, phone number, even my face. Apparently, Google needs to do this because, as it states: “People have different privacy concerns and needs. To best serve the full range of our users, Google strives to offer them meaningful and fine-grained choices over the use of their personal information. We believe personal information should not be held hostage and we are committed to building products that let users export their personal information to other services. We don‘t sell users’ personal information.”
Google explains in its comprehensive Q&A that you don’t need to sign in to use many of its services, including Search, Maps and YouTube. If you are signed in, you can still edit or turn off your Search history, switch Gmail chat to “off the record,” control the way Google tailors ads to your interests, use Incognito mode on Chrome, or use any of the other privacy tools Google offers. However, the onus is on you to do this, each and every time you use one of the services. If, like me, your browser ‘remembers’ you to Google each time you use it, then what chance do you have?
Call me skeptical, but every time I hear about changes in privacy policies these days I start to worry. Especially when I read statements like: “Our goal is to provide you with as much transparency and choice as possible…our privacy principles remain unchanged. And we’ll never sell your personal information or share it without your permission (other than rare circumstances like valid legal requests).” Pull the other leg, please!
Until I can get a handle on all of this I’m going to Bing for my searches (yes Microsoft, all is forgiven), closing my Google+ account (no idea why I have one – I’ve never used it) and Gmail will be ignored completely. Google Earth is out, location-based services on my phone switched off and Google maps, which I have never trusted to give me directions, will be avoided.
Can I survive without Google? There’s only one way to find out.