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Terrier Tech: Google’s New Privacy Policy

What to know, and how to opt out


When Google implemented its new privacy policy earlier this month, it drew howls of protest from consumer watchdog groups, privacy experts, and lawmakers. The new policy consolidated 60 privacy policies for individual products such as Gmail, Blogger, YouTube, and Search into a single privacy policy—thus allowing the world’s dominant search engine to share data across all of its services and develop targeted advertising. That’s raised concerns about the tracking and sale of large amounts of personal information.

For its part, Google has said its streamlined privacy policy is designed to improve user experience across its product line. But critics say it’s merely a vehicle that allows the company to develop more detailed profiles of users by merging data it’s been collecting from its services in an effort to sell more advertising. The company has also drawn fire for not providing users with an opportunity to opt out of the privacy policy.

Concerned? There are steps you can take to get around the new privacy policy. To clarify Google’s consumer and educational privacy policies and what they mean for you, we invited Quinn Shamblin, BU Information Services & Technology executive director of information security, to the “Terrier Tech” studios to talk about the issue. In the video above and the Q&A below, Shamblin provides information and tips about how to handle the new privacy policy.

Terrier Tech: What’s new about Google’s privacy policy?

Shamblin: Google collects information across all the different apps they support. Up until now, each Google app had its own privacy policy—its own statement of what information it collected and what Google would do with that information—but now Google has created one overarching policy for all of its services. One of the things they did as part of this was to change how they can share data among their various services.

What impact does that have on BU’s Google apps?

The University’s agreement with Google provides protections for our users’ data in addition to what Google’s regular consumer privacy policy provides.

One important thing that changes is that your viewing history on YouTube will now be combined with your Web Search History and the keyword analysis that Google does on the messages in your regular Gmail inbox and Google chat (and data from their other services) to provide a much more complete picture of who you are online. This does not apply to your BU Google apps. But with the other non-BU apps, information can now be shared.

Google says its new privacy policy is intended to streamline 60 separate privacy policies, but is the company collecting more information as a result of the change?

Google is not collecting more information, but that information can now be shared among services. There are some good and helpful reasons to do this.

For one, it allows Google to provide much better search results, recommendations, and ads. As Google explains it, prior to the change, if a user who likes to cook searched for recipes on Google, they were not able to recommend cooking videos when that user visited YouTube—even though he or she was signed in to the same Google account when using both. Now, with the change in policy, they can.

So if the company’s not collecting more information, why are so many people concerned about the new policy?

That is a matter of how you personally view the situation. For many people, it actually came as a surprise that Google was not already doing this. They just assumed that they were. For those people, this change will not be of concern.

However, some privacy groups have pointed out that people need to be aware of what this means so that they can make informed choices. These groups are concerned that Google may be allowed to uncover information about a person that might be sensitive—for example, facts about your location, age, interests, sexual orientation, religion, health concerns, etc.

The real point is to make informed choices about what you choose to put online. For example, how many times have you been asked by a bank or credit card to provide your mother’s maiden name or the name of your pet as security questions to reset a password to a website or to access information over the phone? These days, this approach offers very little protection. A person can just hop over to Facebook and usually find all that stuff out in a matter of minutes.

Another interesting site to check out is pipl.com, which is basically a search engine for people.

It makes you wonder, what is privacy really?

Very true. Humanity has always been socially driven. We love to share about ourselves and learn about others. Social websites have allowed us to do this to a degree that we have never been able to before.

But people often forget that once that information is out there, other people can find it and what they do with it can be surprising. If you want an eye-opening experience, go to a website called pleaserobme.com. This is an old-time burglar trick brought into the modern age to help raise awareness of the risks of oversharing. The information you put out on the internet is aggregated and shared and can be used by other people in ways that you may not have even dreamed.

Is there a way for people to opt out of the new policy?

If you’re concerned about the changes to Google’s privacy policy, there is something you can do about it. For YouTube, log into Google first, then go to YouTube. Click on the little icon in the upper right-hand corner with your name on it, go to video manager, and click on history. There you’ll be able to clear all your current history and pause the collecting of history. You can do the same on Google itself by going to Google.com/history.

Want “Terrier Tech” to review a gadget? Post it in the comments section below or DM us @BUToday.

Alan Wong

Alan Wong can be reached at alanwong@bu.edu.

9 Comments on Terrier Tech: Google’s New Privacy Policy

  • Aaron L'Heureux on 03.29.2012 at 8:52 am

    Warren, you are the product.

  • Concerned User on 03.29.2012 at 10:18 am

    Interesting subtitle here—”…how to opt out.” Not one word about opting out of google’s invasion.

    If you want to see how much this infection has spread, use Firefox with the NoScript add-on and disable running scripts from any site with “google” in the name. Then try to see how much of the BU intranet you can navigate. Better yet, after disabling google, try to submit a help ticket to IT—you cannot do it.

    It is bad enough that we have to deal with google in external sites, but now we are being forced to use it with internal BU sites. If the were truly concerned about the students, it would prohibit the invasion of its student’s private information and be in accordance with the federal FERPA laws.

    • Jeff on 03.29.2012 at 11:19 am

      The opt-out information is pretty clear in the video.

    • Warren Towers on 03.29.2012 at 12:05 pm

      Luckily, you don’t have to deal with it; FERPA laws and the educational agreement that Google has with BU remain unaffected, as we talk about. RTFA!

  • BU person on 03.29.2012 at 10:24 am

    That’s right, google owns you if you are concerned about your privacy. On the flip side if they know everything about all their users then it looses its shock value.

    Want to fight fire with fire?
    I present the reader with this hypothetical situation:

    Maybe try to be subversive. Take Justin Bieber, according to youtube commments in rock videos it appears that everyone hates him. Imagine that one day he becomes emperor of the world. He orders his minions to search youtube and gmail databases to find and liquidate all the haters. Right now if all the haters start watching him and using words like OMG in emails with his name the google search algorithms may get confused and the minions will let them live.

  • Opt Out? on 03.29.2012 at 10:41 am

    Yes, the “opt out” part also caught my eye and I didn’t see the explaination in the article. I can’t watch the video with my connection. How do you opt out?

  • Robin B. on 03.29.2012 at 11:39 am

    Another great Terrier Tech. Thanks for exploring Google’s new privacy. I like the shift from gadgets to tech news.

  • ashley on 03.30.2012 at 7:15 pm

    With people willingly sharing personal information with whomever is bored enough to “like” their every other second unsolicited updates, why is a privacy policy that leaves one with little to no privacy come as such a shock? That to me is far more troubling.

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