Internet privacy experts in France have warned the new policy could violate European law, while an international coalition of 50 consumer groups has denounced it as "unfair and unwise."
As of March 1, Google has merged the 60 distinct privacy guidelines of its various platforms into one, unified policy
. From now on, information -- including personal information and data related to Internet and site-specific searches -- from all the company's platforms will be merged and used to target advertising to individual users.
For instance, if a user searches for something on the popular video-sharing site YouTube, that information could be used to generate targeted ads when that user logs on to Gmail.
Among the platforms affected are the Google search engine, the Android mobile operating platform, YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps, the Google Plus social-networking site, and the Picasa photo-sharing service. For now, at least, Google Books, Google Wallet, and Google Chrome will maintain separate privacy policies.
Why is Google making the change?
Google says the new policy will enable it to provide better service, including "more relevant search results and advertising." "If you're signed into Google, we can do things like suggest search queries -- or tailor your search results -- based on the interests you've expressed in Google Plus, Gmail, and YouTube," Google wrote in an e-mail sent to Gmail users.
According to a Google official's recent blog post, the new system, for instance, enables the company to "provide reminders that you're going to be late for a meeting based on your location, your calendar, and an understanding of what traffic is like that day."
The company also claims the new policy removes inconsistencies among the old policies and will make it simpler for users to understand what information Google collects and how it uses that data.
What are the concerns about the new policy?
The French Internet privacy watchdog CNIL and European Union experts have expressed concern about the new policy. CNIL has "strong doubts about the lawfulness and fairness" of "the combination of personal data across services."
Advocates from the Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), a coalition of 50 consumer groups, wrote an open letter to Google calling the policy "unwise and unfair." "You record virtually every event of a Google user, in far more detail than consumers understand," the TACD letter says. "On March 1, you propose to combine data from all of your services, provided by your users in very different contexts and for very different reasons, into a single profile without user consent and without any meaningful opportunity for users to opt out."
Privacy advocates say Google collects such data as calendar appointments, location data, search preferences, contacts, personal preferences based on Gmail chats and e-mails, technical information about your devices, and search-query information.
What can you do to protect your data?
Users can view their dashboard
for a summary of which Google platforms have information about them and to manage their settings. They can also view and delete their Google search history here
. There is a similar tool for YouTube here
. Google account holders can also choose not to receive advertisements targeted by their information, although that won't prevent the information from being gathered.
Privacy advocates also say it's a good idea not to be logged onto any of Google's services when using the Google search engine or watching YouTube videos.
Ultimately, however, the only real way to opt out of this new data-compilation policy is to stop using Google services.
Written by Robert Coalson