Thursday, February 9, 2012

Google Announces New Privacy Policy and Terms of Service


Effective March 1, 2012, Google’s new Privacy Policy and Terms of Service will go into effect.  These changes are billed as simplifying and consolidating over 60 different privacy policies that apply to Google’s library of services and tools – specifically that it’s “a lot shorter and easier to read.”  (See Overview for this text.)  What appears below is a brief summary of each document, but I encourage you to read the originals, as other issues may jump out at you based on your individual circumstances.  Following these summaries is a description of how to opt out.

Privacy Policy

A quick comparison between the new Privacy Policy and the October 20, 2011 version of the main Privacy Policy suggests that perhaps the information collected by Google – or how that information is used – hasn’t changed, but instead, how the policy is explained.  (I did not compare the March policy with any of the other 60-odd policies that Google referenced in its Overview, so there may be some significant changes here.)

Among other notable provisions of the new policy are the following: 
·        Google may collect device-specific information (such as specifics about your hardware model and mobile network, including your phone number).  Google may associate such device-identifying information or phone number with your Google account.
·        Google may collect and store server logs showing how you used their services (such as search engine queries), call history (to/from phone numbers, duration of calls, SMS routing info, forwarding numbers, and time and date), IP address, device crash history, browser type and browser language, and may also use cookies.
·        Google may collect information about your location using GPS signals sent by a mobile device or sensor data searching for nearby WiFi access points and cell towers.
·        Google may use information from cookies or “pixel tags” to “improve your user experience and the overall quality of our services.”  The example Google gives is being able to remember your language preferences, but the breadth of this tool could be rather large.

Google offers several tools to provide “Transparency and Choice,” including links to review and control information tied to your Google Account, view and edit ad preferences, adjust your Google Profile, control with whom you share information and port your data from Google’s services through a tool called Dataliberation.

Google also reminds users that any information that users share publicly will be indexable by search engines, including Google.  Google explains that it provides mechanisms to correct or remove incorrect data that reside on its servers, but provides no links to place a request to the begin the process. 

Finally, Google provides information about what it shares with non-Google entities and explains it security protections.

Terms of Service

Google’s new Terms of Service are pretty straightforward and contain provisions such as warranties, disclaimers, limitations on liability, business use of Google’s services, and choice of law (California – although specifically disclaims California’s conflict of laws rules).  The Terms of Service uses expressions like “Don’t misuse our services” and “Don’t interfere with our services.”  It also provides confirmation that “you retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in” content that you upload to Google’s services.  But, and this is significant, “When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations, or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.”  Google follows this broad automatic license with this explanation:  “The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.”

Additional Details about Managing Your Online Profile

In its Privacy Policy, Google also provides information about how to opt out of certain advertising delivery (such as DoubleClick) – more information can be found here: https://www.google.com/intl/en/privacy/ads/.  Google explains that you can opt out of Network Advertising through a single page (http://www.networkadvertising.org/managing/opt_out.asp), which tells you whether certain cookies are present are your machine and allows you to opt-out to each individually or to all of them at once.   You can also permanently block the DoubleClick cookie.  Be sure to read all of the disclaimers before making permanent changes to your browser. 

Note also that in the Advertising and Privacy section, Google explains, “Ads that appear next to Gmail messages can also be personalized based on emails in your account. Read more about ads in Gmail and your personal data.     

You can also request that content you don’t want to be included in Google’s search engine results be removed.  Details are here:  http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=164734 (Google cautions that these tools should only be used to remove pages urgently – such as if a private credit card number is exposed – where immediate action is required.  Google adds that using the tools too liberally within your own web site could cause functionality problems.)

As mentioned above, these new policies go into effect across the board for Google services on March 1, 2012.  You have a little time between now and then, and I’d encourage you to read these policies for yourself and determine what pieces (if any) matter to you so that you can make changes or opt out, if necessary to protect your interests.

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