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While the changes were made to improve user efficiency and targeting of ads, and to enable it to “build a better, more intuitive user experience across Google for signed-in users,” according to the company, many Google users are worried their privacy has been or will be compromised by hackers and/or identity thieves as a result of this new aggregated policy.
“There’s a lot of concern because Google’s a lot bigger than anyone of us ever imagined before,” said Parry Aftab (pictured at right), an Internet privacy and security lawyer and executive director of the online consumer watchdog group WiredSafety.com. Aftab appears on national media outlets frequently as a cybersafety expert.
“They’re taking 60 different privacy policies and they’re consolidating them into one, and that one is now reminding all of us that YouTube and Gmail and Gdocuments and Blogger and Androids are all part of the Google family,” she said. “So when we share something on our Android and we share it on our Gmail, and we’re logged into our Gmail on our accounts, or into our Google accounts, everything’s tied together.”
Aftab acknowledged users’ concerns, but noted that many privacy safeguards and much oversight is already in place to prevent Google and other data aggregators from violating privacy laws and procedures.
“There are watchdog groups such as WiredSafety.com and so many others out there,” she said. “There’s the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) in the United States, the Privacy Commissioner in Canada, all of the EU (European Union) privacy directors. Around the world, there are people who do this for a living, and all they do is check and make sure people aren’t misusing the information.”
Aftab noted that while many people are concerned about the policy changes, many others aren’t, and she noted a generational factor in the equation.
Aftab noted that part of the problem lies with users. “What we do is never read privacy policies, we click ‘I accept’ and we forget what it is we’re saying or put things in writing that we never would have put in writing before,” she said.
“There are Google privacy tools, it’s google.com/privacy/tools, that’ll let you opt out of targeting marketing and the others, and the simple thing is, just log out of your Google account when you’re doing anything you don’t want them to track,” Aftab said.
But there are other ways to work around the Google privacy/security issue, she said.
“Google will not be too happy about this – I have two different Google accounts, one really for me, and the other one that I set up for my Droid account when I had one,” Aftab said. “And that’s the one that’s logged into my computer when I forget to log out. So they’re finding out information that really isn’t tracked to anything anymore and I really don’t even have an Android anymore. So a great way to surf anonymously is to have two accounts, one that’s public and another that’s pretty private. The rest is think about where you’re going, what you’re saying and what you do online, and if you’re uncomfortable with it, stop using it, go use the privacy tools and settings and decide how YOU want to treat your information. You can do that.”
As an aid to Google users, Aftab said, WiredSafety.com plans to post tutorials in the next week or two detailing how to adjust privacy settings on Google accounts.
She said Google’s privacy changes can, in the end, be helpful, “as long as we make sure those watchdogs and governmental agencies are around, and that Google is as open and above-board as they have been here. If we just stop being a little lazy and read this (policy) or get an eight-year-old to help us figure it out, we might actually be able to survive.”
Visit http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2012/02/googles-new-privacy-policy.html and www.wiredsafety.com for more information.