Social Media Matters

About this Blog: Kristin Burnham chronicles what matters (and what doesn't) in the world of social networking, Web 2.0 and consumer applications.

Social Media Matters

Google’s New Privacy Policy Highlights Need for Better Settings

Google's updated privacy policy--which allows the company to share information about you across all of its services--has drawn criticism worldwide. Here's how its changes affect your online identity and why Google now needs to focus on making its privacy settings easier to use.

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Amid intense controversy yesterday, Google's new privacy policy went live.

The redesigned privacy policy condenses into one more than 60 former privacy policies across Google products—such as Gmail, GChat, Picassa, Google+ and YouTube.

As part of that change, Google will now share the information it has about you among all of its services, creating one profile of you rather than separate logs for each Google service you use. For example, your activity on YouTube can affect what you see in search results; and data from your browsing history can affect what you see in Google Music.

But it's the lack of an easy opt-out feature that has privacy advocates in the U.S. and Europe at odds over Google’s new policy. The French regulatory authority said this week that the policy was a violation of the European Union's data protection rules, and 36 attorneys general have said Google's changes are an invasion of privacy.

Google does make suggestions, such as turning off your search history and signing out to use services such as Maps and YouTube, "if you don't think information sharing will improve your experience."

But what if you want to do more to ensure your privacy? Well, good luck.

Take, for example, disabling your YouTube video history. (Note that if you've already disabled your Web history, this does not encompass your YouTube activity.) It's not as simple as visiting the "Privacy' section in your Google account. Nor is it as easy as navigating to your Google Dashboard from there, where you're supposedly able to "view and manage the information stored in your Google Account."

In fact, you can't even clear your YouTube video history from where Google's Dashboard sends you when you click "Manage privacy settings." Unless you do some serious digging in the underbelly of YouTube, it's likely you'd never find it.

If you want to clear your YouTube history, here's how to do it:

1. From Gmail, click your name on the top-right of the page, then select "Privacy."

2. Scroll to the bottom and click "Sign in to Dashboard." Then, enter your username and password.

3. From your Dashboard, scroll to the bottom and select "Manage privacy settings" under the YouTube section.

4. Then, once again, click the link to your name in the top-right and find "History" from the scrolling menu on the lift. Click it.

5. Visit both the "History" and "Search History" tabs to either clear all viewing/search history or to pause it.

Sure, Google may have simplified its privacy policy to make it "much easier to understand" and to "build a better, more intuitive user experience across Google for signed-in users," according to its blog post. But by condensing policies, and effectively sharing your online identity with its 60-plus products, it brings to the forefront an even more necessary change Google must make: a revamp of its privacy settings.

Web users have held steadfast in demanding more control over their privacy. When Facebook felt the heat from its users, the social network responded by condensing its privacy settings into a more streamlined privacy center. Now it's time for Google to do the same.


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