The Basics Behind Google’s New Privacy Policies

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Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call

Last week, Google announced new privacy standards that essentially created a single, unified policy across all of its properties. What’s so bad about that? Well, users kind of freaked out when they realized that Google would be tracking them across all of its services to tailor ads to them — meaning that if you were cruising YouTube for videos of awesome Blake Griffin dunks, you might end up with a Nike ad in your Gmail.

(MORE: Google to Merge User Data Across More Services)

People complained, a group of Congressmen including Representative Cliff Stearns, Republican from Florida, and Representative Henry Waxman, Democrat from California, got involved, and now Google is defending itself with a letter.

Here’s the gist of what it says (or you can read the entire thing online):

  • You don’t have to sign in. You can use YouTube, Search and other Google products even if you aren’t signed into your Google account. Of course, if you’re an avid Gmail user, that means you’d have to constantly be signing in and out. But hey, that’s the price you pay for “a better user experience.”
  • If that sounds like a pain, just make separate accounts for each site.
  • Google isn’t collecting any new information. It’s simply taking the information it was already gathering and consolidating it.
  • It’s all in the name of simplicity. Google was a single search engine in 1998 and now it’s an Internet behemoth that has accrued more than “60 product-specific privacy policies.”
  • Users can request Google delete their personal information from its archives after they’ve closed their accounts provided they’re willing to wait a “reasonable period of time,” whatever that means.

To be fair, if you’re not concerned about privacy, the integration between services is pretty cool. A few examples Google gives:

For example, today we make it easy for a signed-in user to immediately add an appointment to her Calendar when a message in Gmail looks like it’s about a meeting. As a signed-in user she can also read a Google Docs document right in her Gmail, rather than having to leave Gmail to read the document. Our ability to share information for one account across services also allows signed-in users to use Google+’s sharing feature — called “circles” — to send directions to family and friends without leaving Google Maps.

The fact is, if you’re already using Gmail, then you probably shouldn’t be up in arms about privacy since you basically haven’t had any for years. For social-media users, you can always leave Google+ for Facebook. Oh, wait, you hate Timeline? Well this is awkward.

MORE: Twitter May Censor Tweets in Individual Countries

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