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Google introduces privacy changes (cue the backlash)

On March 1, Google will roll out a new, streamlined privacy policy. And some critics are already up in arms. 

By Matthew Shaer / January 25, 2012

Google is taking flak for a change to its privacy profile. Here, some loaner bikes at the Google campus in California.

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On March 1, Google will introduce a new, streamlined terms of service and privacy policy, which takes approximately 60 separate policies for various Google products, and rolls them into a single "much more readable" document. The move comes as Google seeks to expand Search Plus Your World – an initiative that mixes Google+ posts and personal photos with more traditional search results. 

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"The main change is for users with Google Accounts," Google's Alma Whitten wrote in a post on the company blog yesterday. "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. In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience."

But as Cecilia Kang notes over at the Washington Post, the new policies have critics worried – not least because the new policies will not come with an opt-out provision. A user signing up for Gmail, might not know the "content of his or her messages could affect the experience on seemingly unrelated Web sites such as YouTube," Kang writes

And plenty of lawmakers agree. 

"The lack of opt-out means users cannot pick and choose which data they want integrated into their Google profiles," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, wrote this week in a blog post (hat tip to Politico). "Private email messages might contain any number of personal, embarrassing or otherwise damaging information, and Google's attempts to amplify and contextualize this information through targeted ads, maps suggestions or calendar reminders could have negative consequences for users."

Over at Computerworld, Barbara Krasnoff points out that the new policies will be of particular interest to owners of devices such as the Galaxy Nexus smart phone, "which is pretty much useless outside of the Google netverse." Galaxy Nexus owner with a strong objection to the recent changes instituted by Google? Well, you're in trouble. 

"I must admit, the idea of being completely unable to opt out of specific privacy issues has me very troubled," Krasnoff writes. "My immediate reaction is to read Google's policies, check out some of the more knowledgeable commentators on the subject, and if I find that I do agree with those privacy activists who believe that Google has stepped too far over the line, to join those hoping to pressure the company to alter its new policy." 

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