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Google Set to Replace Government as Big Brother

Google's new so-called privacy policy may be the end of online privacy for hundreds of millions of users worldwide.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 1/25/2012, 2:27 PM

Big Brother
Big Brother
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Google has come under fire over plans to track user's across all of its websites and use the information to alter the person's search results.

The Internet giant indicated it would combine data across its Web sites, and track all of its users search activities, to stitch together a fuller portrait of users, and consumers won't be able to opt out of the changes that go into effect March 1.

"We're rolling out a new main privacy policy that covers the majority of our products and explains what information we collect, and how we use it, in a much more readable way," Alma Whitten, Google's director of privacy, product and engineering, wrote in the blog post.

"We believe this new, simpler policy will make it easier for people to understand our privacy practices as well as enable Google to improve the services we offer," she said.

Google noted that "regulators globally have been calling for shorter, simpler privacy policies" and said it would inform users of the changes by email and with a notice on the Google.com home page.

The main change announced on Tuesday involves users who have Google accounts.

"If you're signed in, we may combine information you've provided from one service with information from other services," Whitten said. "In short, we'll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience."

However, privacy activists say say users must have the option to opt out from new privacy changes in order to protect them from unwanted corporate intrusion. The changes in Google's privacy policy, the company can collect information about users when they activate an Android mobile phone, sign into their accounts online or enter search terms.

It can also store cookies on people's computers to see which Web sites they visit or use its popular maps program to estimate their location.

According to The Washington Post, consumer advocates said that the new policy might upset people who never expect their information to be shared across so many different Web sites.

"Google's new privacy announcement is frustrating and a little frightening," said Common Sense Media chief executive James Steyer. "Even if the company believes that tracking users across all platforms improves their services, consumers should still have the option to opt out, especially the kids and teens who are avid users of YouTube, Gmail and Google Search," Steyer added.

US Republican Edward J. Markey, co-chair of the Congressional Privacy Caucus, told the Washington Post "it is imperative that users will be able to decide whether they want their information shared across the spectrum of Google's offerings."

ZNet's Larry Dingan wrote, "Unified user experience aside, it was kind of nice to have my YouTube personas different from say, Gmail and Google+. Google will know more about you than your wife does," Dignan explained. "Everything across your screens will be integrated and tracked.

"Sure you can use Google’s dashboard and ad manager to cut things out, but this policy feels Big Brother-ish," Dignan added. "Google is watching you as long as you are logged in."

Earlier this week, the United States Supreme Court ruled law enforcement officers must obtain warrants before tracking a person's vehicle around-the-clock with GPS. The ruling, while not comprehensive and limited to law enforcement, relies on the underlying presumption by the justices that ubiquitous tracking of a person's movements is a violation of reasonable privacy expectations.

US Government officials requested personal data on Google Users for criminal investigations 5,590 times in the first half of 2011 - and increase of 29% over the last six months. Google reported it complied with 93% of these requests.

No warrant was required.