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Google to Create Detailed User Profiles

02 Feb 2012

Google sent shock waves through the Web last week with its announcement that it intends to revise its privacy policy to enable it to create more comprehensive profiles of users.

Starting March 1, the company intends to combine information about signed-in users across a variety of products and services, including Gmail, Android, and YouTube. "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," Google's Alma Whitten, director of privacy, product and engineering, said 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."

Some groups, like frequent Google critic Consumer Watchdog, see the move as a potential threat. "Google has eliminated its last pretense that it protects consumer privacy," Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson said in a statement. "Instead of a privacy policy Google has finally admitted they have a profiling policy -- and every Internet user is a target to be spied on."

But other observers say Google is only positioning itself to compete with other online companies that already have a host of data about users -- like Facebook, which knows people's interests as well as their social contacts, or Apple, which knows what material iPhone and iPad users purchase.

Google itself says it will use the additional data to personalize its services -- though the examples provided by the company seem less than compelling. "We can provide more relevant ads," Whitten says in her blog post. "For example, it's January, but maybe you're not a gym person, so fitness ads aren't that useful to you."

This statement is particularly odd. Don't individuals who aren't "gym people" join health clubs in January because they hope to become gym people?

Whitten's next example is equally puzzling: "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."

Somehow, it doesn't seem likely that too many users will appreciate having Google nag them about running late.

People who want to continue to use Google have no choice but to accept the new privacy policy. At the same time, however, people can stop Google from collecting some information by signing out of their accounts. Users also still retain the ability to opt out of receiving behaviourally targeted ads.

Source: Mediapost

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