Google faces backlash over changes to privacy settings


Google’s plans to follow the activities of users and merge personal data across a range of its services, including YouTube, Gmail, its social network Google+ and search engine, has sparked a backlash from critics, who worry that the move erodes privacy and is simply part of a data battle with rival Facebook.

Yesterday the company announced an overhaul of the way in which it will use data. As of March 1, the software giant will link information across its services so that information gathered in one place – for example, a user’s Google search terms – can be used to recommend content elsewhere – when they next use YouTube, for example.

“If you’re signed into Google, we can do things like suggest search queries, or tailor your search results, based on the interests you’ve expressed in Google+, Gmail and YouTube,” the firm said, according to the BBC.

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The changes remove several of the legal hurdles that the firm faced due to having more than 70 different privacy policies across its email, video, social-networking and other services, the Associated Press reported.

However, users cannot opt out of the changes, and although Google has already been collecting some of this data, it is the first time that the company is combining the information across its sites to create a fuller and more detailed portrait of users, according to the Washington Post.

Users who don’t want to have their information shared simply have the option to shut down their accounts with Google.

The move has rankled privacy campaigners like the Open Rights Group (ORG), who think Google’s broader umbrella privacy policy is dangerous. Interviewed by the BBC, one of ORG’s campaigners, Peter Bradwell said:

“Does this simplicity come at the expense of strong boundaries between Google products? Will details that users thought might be private on one be revealed in unexpected ways on another?”

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One national regulatory body agency has already indicated its concern. Ireland’s data-protection agency has stated that it will be examining the “implications of the changes now that they are launched to users,” Bloomberg reported.

Under new European privacy rules proposed today by EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, the Irish agency will become a “one-stop-shop” for companies like Google and Facebook who base their European operations in Ireland.  

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