Google's New Polices Raise Privacy Questions

Google has ruffled a few feathers with changes to its privacy policy and terms of service that give the search and cloud giant carte blanche to share user data across its various services.

Google this week unveiled the new unified privacy policy that states Google can share data between more than 60 of its Web services based on a user's Google Account. Users must agree to the policy, or close their account to avoid having data shared across Google properties, including Gmail, YouTube, Search and more.

"What does this mean in practice? The main change is for users with Google Accounts. Our new Privacy Policy makes clear that, if you’re signed in, we may combine information you've provided from one service with information from other services. In short, we'll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience," Google Director of Privacy, Product and Engineering, Alma Whitten, said in a blog post about Google's new privacy policy.

For example, Google said, if a user searches for restaurants in Munich on Google search, the results might return Google+ posts or photos that people have shared with the user or that are in a user's albums. Or users can read a Google Docs memo in Gmail or add a Gmail contact to a Google Calendar meeting.

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The new privacy policy and terms of service take effect on March 1.

Google will use the data and information to learn more about users and leverage calendar and location data, search histories, contacts, Gmail data, device information and more to get a clear picture of its users.

Whitten added that Google will "remain committed to data liberation" and users can take their information elsewhere. Whitten also pointed out that Google doesn't sell user information or share it externally without user permission, except under a court order or other circumstances.

Still, Google's new policies are being criticized by online privacy advocates who claim that Google is shaking its "don't be evil" mantra in favor of tracking users across the Web and targeting ads more specifically to those users.

In a scathing criticism of the new Google privacy policy and terms of service dubbed "Google's Broken Promise: The End of 'Don't Be Evil,'" Gizmodo writer Mat Honan called the new policies a reversal on the perception that Google is a user-first organization.

"Google built its reputation, and its multi-billion dollar business, on the promise of its 'don't be evil' philosophy," Honan wrote. "That's been largely interpreted as meaning that Google will always put its users first, an interpretation that Google has cultivated and encouraged. Google has built a very lucrative company on the reputation of user respect. It has made billions of dollars in that effort to get us all under its feel-good tent. And now it's pulling the stakes out, collapsing it. It gives you a few weeks to pull your data out, using its data-liberation service, but if you want to use Google services, you have to agree to these rules."