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Google privacy changes: What it means for you

Google's new privacy policy streamlines information from multiple platforms, but at the expense of users' privacy?

Google new privacy polic 01 03 2012Enlarge
Men stands at the entrance of the Google France new offices on December 6, 2011 in Paris. The EU's top regulator has expressed concern over Google's new controversial privacy policy, which goes into effect today (Jacques Brinon/AFP/Getty Images)

Google's home page may still have the same clean, simple look it had yesterday, but that does not mean nothing has changed.

The California-based internet giant enacted it's new privacy policy today, merging 60 separate privacy policies into a single policy that covers most of the company's platforms.  Google says that the new policy will create a "beautifully simple, intuitive user experience across Google." Critics, including Common Sense Media chief executive James Steyer, have dubbed the policy as "frustrating and a little frightening."

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Here's what it means for you:

Although critics have been up in arms about the new policy, it does not allow Google to collect any new information from your account. Rather, it permits them to merge information collected about your account across a handful of its services, and store the information in one place. Before the new privacy agreement, according to The Huffington Post, the information ascertained from each of Google's separate platforms was stored separately.

The company says that by building a more comprehensive profile about each user, it can better assist them in their actions and searches across the web. Youtube videos that a user watches can now influence the ads that appear on that same user's Gmail account.  If a user misspells a friend's name on Google docs, they will be prompted to correct it if that person has been contacted via Gmail, based on the data communication between their services.

Searches themselves are now more personalized; if one searches for "the bruins" on any of its platforms, Google will be able to target whether they are looking for the UCLA mascot or the Boston hockey team, based on the user's previous search history and recorded interests. Search engine inquiries can also affect what ads appear on Blogger, Google+, or any of the platforms included in the new policy, and vice-versa.

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In the past, the information from each site could influence what ads are tailored to each user, but only on that specific site. Now, Google is attempting to fill the gap, so that the data collected from the majority of their services can work seamlessly together.

A few products, such as Google Wallet, Google Books, and Chrome, will continue to have standalone privacy policies.

According to The Associated Press, these changes are not motivated solely by enhancing user experience. Google stands to draw even more advertiser revenue with the revamped policy. The $38 billion dollars Google receives in ad revenues already makes up a significant portion of it's revenue.

Consumers aiming to limit the information Google collects have some means to do so, but not many. 

Registered users of Youtube, Gmail, or any other services cannot prevent the data they input from being collected. y However, if one is not logged on when using Google's search engine or watching Youtube videos, just to name a few, Google cannot match the data collected to your personal account — Google tracks your usage through a, "numeric Internet address attached to your computer or an alphanumeric string attached to your Web browser." Google offers the option of clearing one's search history as well.

Users can get a "broad overview" of the information they have has collected about you by going to Google Dashboard.

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Google has promised its users that this information will remain internal, except in extenuating circumstances, such as a court order. However, Seamus Byrne, editor of consumer technology site CNET Australia, is not sold: "Google is now an incredibly large company and they own one of the world's biggest digital advertising networks."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/business-tech/technology-news/120301/google-privacy-changes-what-it-means-you