Out with the Old, In with the New: Making Google’s Privacy Policy Work for You

April 9, 2012: Google’s new privacy policy, implemented at the beginning of March, has sparked a series of charges and countercharges about how the tech giant may be impinging on users’ privacy. To date, Google has found itself the target of multiple state Attorneys General allegations, voiced concern by members of Congress, and, most recently, a wave of class-action lawsuits claiming the policy not only violates users’ privacy rights, but that it also constitutes computer fraud and abuse.  However, the new policy, which allows Google to synchronize data across all its services (Gmail, search history, YouTube, etc.) and offer users a “better, more intuitive experience,” has brought about more than just public outcry.  It’s raised the question: How comfortable are we with personalized search?  What does consent mean in this digital age?

Spurred by the Federal Trade Commission’s final report on consumer privacy, which outlined best practices for businesses to protect the privacy of American consumers and to give them greater control over the collection and use of their personal data, Google announced late last month its Account Activity feature.  According to a recent blog on the topic, “The Account Activity feature is part of Google’s broader effort to make sure users are more comfortable with the company’s new privacy policies,” which makes it sound as though Google is more concerned about putting out the hysteria fires and less concerned about protecting user privacy.  In that sense, it’s a small step toward addressing a much larger issue—how much control we have over our personal information stored and later used to customize the ads and search results we see without giving our express consent—but it’s a step nonetheless.  Here’s how it works:

  • Step One: Sign-up via Google’s Official Blog to receive a monthly password-protected report of your data and usage.

  • Step Two: Open the Account Activity report to view account sign-ins, authentication changes (application-specific passwords, connected sites, apps, and services), and number of emails sent versus received.  Google asserts such information may help you better manage the privacy and protection of your data (for example, if the report shows sign-ins from locations where you don’t visit or from devices you don’t own, there may have been unauthorized activity on your account).
  • Step Three: Manage your account settings, updating password information, email addresses and usernames, and connected accounts.  An important feature here is the “Services” tab, which allows you to view, enable, or disable your web history if you’re uncomfortable with Google tracking such information.

According to Google product manager Andreas Tuerk, “Every day [Google aims] to make technology so simple and intuitive that you stop thinking about it—we want Google to work so well, it just blends into your life.”  For those who would prefer to think about it—to ensure they’re monitoring the safety and security of their personal information and cross-linked accounts—Google’s Account Activity may offer a suitable alternative to users throwing their hands in the air and hinging their hopes on the outcome of the various lawsuits under debate.

How do you feel about Google’s Account Activity feature?  Has it changed your opinion of the recently released privacy policy?  Why or why not?

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