Off the Record: Google Privacy Policy & Tools Simplified

Getting the most from Google+

You received an email from Google, saw an ad featuring a new privacy policy or keep hearing about Congress griping over Google’s new privacy policy; but all you want to do is read your email, search stuff online and chat with your colleagues without sharing your information for the world to see.

On March 1, 2012 Google will start adhering to a new simplified privacy policy across most of their products and services.  We’re going to quickly explain the highlights of Google’s simplified privacy policy and how it affects your use of their tools (certain products like Google Wallet are regulated by industry-specific privacy laws and will continue to keep their own set of policies).

For those that fall under the new set of policies here is the “need to know” information:

  • Your personal information will still continue to remain private. Google will not share, sell or rent your private information with any third parties without your permission. The only exception to this rule are legal requests, which are rare circumstances.
  • One of the main reasons for this change is to allow Google to share user data between various Google products. It will allow you to easily share a Google Document with contacts in your Gmail Account or tailor your search results based on interested you have expressed in YouTube or Google+. If you don’t want what you do in Google+ to be shared with your YouTube account or vice versa you can maintain two separate accounts for those products; if you do this Google will not use information from one account to personalize the other.
  • If you no longer wish to use Google tools you can pack up and take your information with you when you leave. Data Liberation Front is an engineering team at Google whose goal is to make it easy for users to move their information into our out of Google products.
  • Should you want to see what information Google has collected and associated with your accounts you can visit Google Dashboard.  Once logged in you can see what websites you have authorized to access your account, clear web browsing history, see what Android devices recently accessed your account, and see how many conversations you currently have stored in Gmail.
  • If you are worried about the concealment of your information, Google offers Privacy Tools to help you control what information is collected, shared and stored. These tools are very easy to use. Choosing to have a chat with your friends on Gmail “off the record” will prevent that conversation from being stored in your account. When you don’t want your website visits or downloads to be recorded in your browsing history, you can use Incognito Mode in Google Chrome. The new privacy policy does not affect existing privacy settings. If you have taken the time to login to your Google accounts and set up privacy control or opted out of sharing certain data, then these settings will remain intact.
  • You can also use many of Google’s services, including Search, Maps, Google News, and YouTube, without logging into your Google Account, or even creating one in the first place.  If you choose not to login to your Google Account when using these services your data will not to stored and associated with your Google Account.

The important thing to keep in mind is how much of your data are you willing to share to streamline your online user experience. If you are a bit freaked out that when you log into your Google Dashboard and Google knows that your last search was for how to break up with your girlfriend or the best way to cure a particular ailment… you might want to reevaluate some of your privacy settings.

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