Coverage of the policy change has been abundant during the last few weeks leading up to it, though Google has made no secret of its intentions–pop-ups alerting users of the transition can be seen on the home pages of all its services.
But despite the warnings, you might still be wondering how, exactly, the change will affect you. Is it really as scary as media are warning? Here’s what you need to know:
1. Google isn’t collecting more information, just using it differently.
The big misconception here is that Google will suddenly gain access to a host of information it didn’t have before. That’s incorrect. The reality is that the search giant has always collected your usage data for all of its services like Google+, Gmail, YouTube, and so on; however, until now, it has stored that data separately.
For example, if you e-mail your mother to tell her about the new puppies you adopted, the suggested videos you see the next time you visit YouTube may be about cute puppies. Previously, Google could not manipulate data in this manner.
2. You’ll be tracked. No matter what.
Building up to today, we and many other tech experts have suggested you clear your Google Web History (here’s how). It’s clear now that although this is a good move (you should do it), it won’t stop Google from collecting your data. By clearing and stopping the official tracking of your Web activity, you only prevent Google from personalizing your experience.
But let’s be clear: this does not stop Google from tracking your Web activity. Meaning, your searches will still be followed and stored on Google’s servers for “internal use.” The information could still be used to build that profile about you and, ultimately, sell it to advertisers who will serve ads specifically tailored to your interests.
3. Is it really a big deal? Yes and no.
While privacy experts are concerned, others exclaim, “So what??” Both reactions are valid.
On the one hand, this isn’t a big deal–Google is collecting the same information it always has, but now it’s being used to improve the users’ experience. One of the more awesome examples is that, based your location and traffic in your area, Google could warn you that you’ll be late to the appointment you logged in Google Calendar. Pretty neat.
And, so what if the data will be used for advertisements? That’s nothing new. The only difference is that the advertisements will be more true to your interests. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, people. Google has to make money from advertisements so they might as well be accurate.
Enough with devil’s advocate.
On the other hand, privacy experts and lawmakers are up in arms about the policy. As New York Times Senior Editor Julia Angwin explains, the United States currently has very few laws governing the collection, use, and distribution of user data.
In the worst case scenario, your data could be sold to employers, who may examine your profile before making a hiring decision. They could deduce that your consistent search queries for “diabetes treatment,” or something of the like, means that you’d be a liability on their health insurance policy.
4. There are some workarounds.
I laughed out loud when a friend suggested to “just stop using Google services.” Yeah, right. We all depend on the Goog for everything, from driving directions to figuring out why my knee has been giving me issues. And, where would I get my laughs? I wouldn’t last very long without seeing Marcel The Shell With Shoes On.
Forget about going cold turkey. Instead, follow these tips to minimize how much data Google collects about you:
Perform Google searches without signing in.
- Use these tools to avoid leaving any footprints when you use Google services.
- “Confuse” Google by creating multiple accounts and using them for different activities. (If you are able to do this without going insane, high five.)
- Add “do not track” to your browsers.
5. Google Books, Chrome, and Wallet will not be affected. The privacy policies of 60 of Google’s services were collapsed into one today, but Wallet, Books, and Chrome will maintain independent policies.