Google's new privacy policy raises hackles

NEW DELHI: Have you ever used Google to search for a restaurant while you were logged in its network using your Google id? Or shared information about your trip to Goa with your friends on Google +? Or watched belly dance on YouTube? Or looked for Sunny Leone pictures on Google images? If yes, Google knows about it. And according to its new privacy policy it is going to put this information to some use.

The Web giant says the new privacy policy will allow it to offer better services, including more relevant search results. But web experts have raised concerns over potential misuse of data and breach of privacy. According to Google's new privacy policy that will come into effect from March 1, the company is "getting rid of over 60 different privacy policies across Google services and replacing them with one that's shorter, easier to read" and something that will enable it to "create intuitive experience across Google" . Unlike in the past when Google had allowed users to choose personalized services, this time there is no option to opt out.

For an end-user this means that whatever information he shares through Google searches, Gmail, Google +, Picassa etc will be used to customize Google services for him. That the move is significant can be gauged from the fact that Google has provided a link to the new policy directly under its search engine on main page, something that the company rarely does. Google users will also be notified about the policy change through an email.

"Our new privacy policy makes clear that, if you're signed in, we may combine information you've provided from one service with information from other services. In short, we'll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience," said Alma Whitten, Google's director of privacy, in a post on the company's official blog.

Whitten gave some example of how this information will be used. "We can make search better - figuring out what you really mean when you type in Apple, Jaguar or Pink. We can provide more relevant ads too," she wrote. "We can provide reminders that you're going to be late for a meeting based on your location , your calendar and an understanding of what the traffic is like that day. Or ensure that our spelling suggestions, even for your friends' names, are accurate because you've typed them before."

The privacy policy from Google is at the heart of its new business strategy as it works to keep the search engine relevant and its services fresh in the face of social networking websites like Twitter and Facebook. It is also prompted by the proliferation of devices like smartphones and tablets. However, privacy experts are not amused. Sunil Abraham, director of Centre for Internet and Society, said the new changes are not good for a consumer's privacy.

"I understand that Google collects the data so that it can build a 360 degree profile of a user and based on the information serve relevant advertisements . But there is no reason for them to store this data for long. Storing data makes it prone to misuse by authorities as well as corporations," said Abraham. Another, problem, he said is that different services are used for different purposes. "I don't want my bakery shop owner to know what kind of medicines Ibuy from the nearby medical store," said Abraham.