Google Privacy Updates 2013: The Basics

Google Privacy Policy

What is the New Google Privacy Policy?

October 11, 2013, Google unveiled their new privacy policy, which now has a feature called “Shared Endorsements” that states Google has permission to leverage users’ social activity to enhance online ads.

Google’s new policy means it can use names and profile pictures in ads throughout its vast empire. Google will incorporate user feedback about products and services (star ratings, reviews and Google +1s, etc.), and the ads will feature images of people who used a given product or feature. In addition, any relevant Google Plus “endorsements” of anybody you are connected with in Google + will be seen in search results. For example, in the crudest terms, if Jack and Jill are Google + friends, and Jill “pluses” a particular brand of pail, Jack will see Jill’s pail “plus” if he does a search for “best pail.”

The policy goes into effect on November 11, giving Google users one month to opt out of the Shared Endorsements feature. At the very least, Google did earn points by announcing the policy change well in advance of implementation. Facebook, one the other hand, recently neglected to give users a warning about updates to its privacy policy.

How Does Google’s Shared Endorsements Feature Affect Users?

The Shared Endorsements feature is perhaps not as evil as it could be. Google delivered a rundown of the new policy in clear, legalese-free language to its users, in which it stated that:

  • Users’ social activity will only be shared with people whom they have friended on Google+.
  • User names and images will only be used in advertisements for “liked” companies, services and websites, but never for products and services on which you never used the +1 feature.
  • Users can always opt out and were given one month to do so.
  • The information of users under age 18 will not be shared in public, including in advertisements.

Users who do choose to turn off the Shared Endorsements feature, including users under 18, can still see the user names and pictures of their friends in search engine results and advertisements. Opting out of Shared Endorsements will not affect how their names and photos are used in the Google Play store for apps, music and videos that they have liked. Opting out affects how information is used in ads.

Internet privacy rights advocates worry about what the new privacy policy could mean for future policy changes. Users have spent years using the company’s social features to like and share items without the threat of this information being used for nefarious purposes. Google+ was presented to users as an evil-free alternative to Facebook, with its targeted advertisements and privacy policy updates shrouded in mystery and implemented under cover of darkness.

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