01 March 2012
It may have escaped your attention, but as of March 1st 2012 Google is making significant changes to its policy on how it deals with data. Your data to be specific. So should you be concerned? Have Google gone back on their "Don't Be Evil" motto?
Put simply, Google is combining more than 60 different privacy policies from across its range of products and services, which as well as the obvious ones like the search engine and email also includes YouTube, Google+, Maps, Docs, and so on.
From March 1st, Google will begin to use the different data it has collected from all these sources in combination to provide more targetted advertising and suggested content across the board. The YouTube videos you watch, any emails you send using GMail, the places you look up on Google Maps, your interactions on Google+ will all be collected in one place. If you have signed up for Google+, it's likely that the company even knows your real name as there are still not keen on pseudonyms. For Android users, real-time location data (if they use Latitude) and much more will be up for grabs.
In reality, Google have been doing this for a long time in small ways - for example tying your Google+ acount to your email - it's just that now they are combining *everything*.
On the plus side, if you trust Google it should make for an improved user experience - but on the downside they are effectively making a lack of privacy a desirable thing by doing this. Your web searches and social media details could potentially reveal sensitive information about your location, interests, age, sexual orientation, religion, or health. And there is nothing, short of closing all of your accounts, that you can do to prevent it.
You can clear your web search history before March 1st to ensure that it isn't combined with other data and to stop any more being collected - although even when it is disabled Google will still be gathering and storing this information and using it for internal purposes. It also does not change the fact that any information gathered and stored by Google could be requested by law enforcement organisations.
If you would like to disable your search history, there is an excellent article at the Electronic Frontier Foundation here
. You can read the new policy here