Google Logo officially released on May 2010

Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday Google published a post on its blog announcing a complete revision of its privacy policies.

Mike Yang, Google’s Associate General Counsel and author of the post, wrote that Google intends to make them more readable and understandable for its non-lawyer users.

As stated on its blog post, in fact, existing privacy policies are very long, full of technicalities and very hard to understand.

The new Google’s legal strategy moves onto two binaries: on one hand it intends to simplify policies deleting all technical terms and redundancies, abbreviating at the same time. For example the sentence “The affiliated sites through which our services are offered may have different privacy practices and we encourage you to read their privacy policies” will be deleted because it’s kind of obvious that non-Google sites aren’t covered by Google’s privacy policies.

On the other hand, Google had the intention to write a unified policy for twelve of its products, which had a specific policy each one that integrated the main Google’s one. These applications are:

  • 3D Warehouse
  • App Engine
  • Calendar
  • Docs
  • Firefox Extensions
  • G1
  • Gmail
  • Feedback
  • iGoogle
  • Maps
  • Talk
  • Tasks

The reason behind the choice of providing a unified policy is simply the consideration that those products share data together and it’s absolutely logical to write a unified regulation for them.

But, as reported by The New York Times, this change also found some oppositions.

We are talking about Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, who wrote that these changes may not be good for Google’s users. “The obvious problem with the revised privacy policy is that Google is now treating user data collection as part of an integrated platform. Previously, users could selectively reveal information to Google for the use of a particular service”, Mr. Rotenberg wrote. “The FTC needs to investigate these changes. This has significant implications for the privacy of Internet users who have previously provided personal information to Google.”

The current version of the main Google Privacy Policy was last modified on March 11, 2009. Meanwhile you can read a preview of the updated policy which will take effect on October the 3rd and in this page you can see the old (current) policy with all the modifications of the new one. Google also provided a FAQ page where you can read some “answers and questions” about the changes it is going to introduce; here you can also find some of its privacy tools. Anyway Google will inform its users through its Privacy Center.

I just described what happened, but the real question is…

… Why did Google decide to change its privacy policies?

Photographers are Flocking to Google Buzz

Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

One of the last things I remember about Google and privacy is the launch of its “social network” Buzz.

In that occasion Google did something that’s deeply wrong: it connected all users together without asking them for authorization. The reaction of many Internet users was very strong: they all criticized Google, which was forced to revise its strategy. In that occasion, Google realized it had to change something in its privacy approach.

In that occasion I also knew the Google’s five privacy principles, by watching the video on its vision about privacy and understanding the ways it protects, and at the same time uses, its user’s personal data.

Google collects users’ personal data to:

  • Provide its users with valuable products and services.
  • Develop products that reflect strong privacy standards and practices.
  • Make the collection of personal information transparent.
  • Give users meaningful choices to protect their privacy.
  • Be a responsible steward of the information it holds.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fvL3mNtl1g

It comes to my mind also the most recently (just yesterday happened) Consumer Watchdog’s attack to Mr. Schmidt’s idea of privacy. The consumers association produced a video and an accompanying web-site InsideGoogle.com.

The video shows Mr. Shuttelworth as an unctuous ice cream truck driver worthy of the best Tim Burton’s film that knows everything about everyone and happily offers free ice creams to children in exchange for full body scans.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–Ckz_O6oE0

Going back in time, instead, I remember the Data Liberation Front Project on whose website we can read: “Users should be able to control the data they store in any of Google’s products.  Our team’s goal is to make it easier to move data in and out”.

I provided just three examples showing how Google is concerned about the increasing attention on its privacy policy.

I don’t know if this is yet another brilliant marketing move or the redemption of a giant, which, on its users’ data, built a planetary business.
Time will tell us.


Free Privacy PolicyICO says: Google to change its privacy policyGoogle Analytics Remarketing Privacy Policy

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