Google announces privacy settings change across products; users can’t opt out
By Cecilia Kang
Google said Tuesday it will require users to allow the company to follow their activities across e-mail, search, YouTube and other services, a radical shift in strategy that is expected to invite greater scrutiny of its privacy and competitive practices.The information will enable Google to develop a fuller picture of how people use its growing empire of Web sites. Consumers will have no choice but to accept the changes.
The policy will take effect March 1 and will also impact Android mobile phone users, who are required to log in to Google accounts when they activate their phones.
The changes comes as Google is facing stiff competition and recently disappointed investors for the first time in several quarters, failing last week to meet earnings expectations. Apple, perhaps its primary rival, is expected to announce strong earnings Tuesday.
Google’s changes are appeared squarely aimed at Apple and Facebook, which have been successful in keeping people in their ecosystem of products. Google, which makes money by selling ads tailored to its users, is hoping to do the same by offering a Web experience tailored to personal tastes.
“If you’re signed in, we may combine information you’ve provided from one service with information from other services,” Alma Whitten, Google’s director of privacy, product and engineering wrote in a blog post.
“In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience,” she said.
After March 1, a user who has recently watched YouTube videos of the Washington Wizards might suddenly see basketball ticket ads appear in his or her Gmail accounts.
That person may also be reminded of a business trip to Washington on Google Calendar and asked whether he or she wants to notify friends who live in the area, information Google would cull from online contacts or its social network Google+.
Privacy advocates say Google’s changes betray users who are not accustomed to having their information shared across different Web sites.
A user of Gmail, for instance, may send messages about a private meeting with a colleague and may not want the location of that meeting to be thrown into Google’s massive cauldron of data or used for Google’s maps application.
Google recently settled a privacy complaint by the Federal Trade Commission after it allowed users of its now defunct social network Google Buzz to see contacts lists from its e-mail program.
Privacy advocates in recent weeks filed a separate complaint that Google deceived consumers by using information from its new social network Google+ in general search results.
Some worry about security. Gmail users, including some White House staff, last year were targeted by hackers who were able to breach the company’s e-mail accounts.
Google has also faced greater scrutiny that it is using its dominance in online search to favor its other applications. Google’s decision to blend Google+ data into search results has been included into a broad FTC antitrust investigation, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is private.
Engineers from Twitter, Facebook and MySpace responded by launching a Web tool that they say shows Google is moving away from its stated mission to be a neutral Web directory.
On the Web site for the plug-in, the engineers wrote that searches for generic terms such as “movies” or “music” prioritize Google+ results over more relevant content.