Google and privacy

Yeah, everyone’s seen the google “We’re changing our privacy policy, please read, it’s important” message. I even clicked on it and tried to read the privacy policy; my eyes quickly glazed over, I couldn’t figure out what had changed or what was significant.

This EFF document clears some things up.

On March 1st, Google will implement its new, unified privacy policy, which will affect data Google has collected on you prior to March 1st as well as data it collects on you in the future. Until now, your Google Web History (your Google searches and sites visited) was cordoned off from Google’s other products. This protection was especially important because search data can reveal particularly sensitive information about you, including facts about your location, interests, age, sexual orientation, religion, health concerns, and more.

And while that document is instructions for “removing your google search history” before the new policy takes effect (which has been going around facebook lately, as these things tend to do, true or false), they’ve added an important note at the bottom saying that, well, you can’t, really.

Note that disabling Web History in your Google account will not prevent Google from gathering and storing this information and using it for internal purposes. It also does not change the fact that any information gathered and stored by Google could be soughtby law enforcement.

With Web History enabled, Google will keep these records indefinitely; with it disabled, they will be partially anonymized after 18 months, and certain kinds of uses, including sending you customized search results, will be prevented. If you want to do more to reduce the records Google keeps, the advice in EFF’s Six Tips to Protect Your Search Privacy white paper remains relevant.

[None of the tips in the related document are particularly feasible for the gmail-using google-search-using person who doesn’t want to jump through hoops quitting browsers all the time]

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