Despite pleas from European regulators, Google’s new Privacy Policy became effective on 1 March. The new policy has sparked fierce discussion over Goggle’s rights over your personal information, and the significance of having great swaths of personal information amalgamated in one place.

Essentially, Google’s new policy ‘streamlines’ your online experience, combining any information which traverses your Google internet searches, Gmail, YouTube (and any other Google platform) while you are logged into any Google service. Previously, each Google product had its own distinct privacy policy, and there was no communication between the products. Some commentators are saying that this is an enormous breach of our privacy, and is especially hard to swallow coming from a company whose mantra is ‘Do no Evil’ and who has always pacified us with strict privacy practices, while others contend that Google has done nothing to increase its information base, but merely brought what it is already entitled to together so as “to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience.”

One of the problems that arise from having a company as integral to our lives as Google holding great chunks of personal information in the one place is that it poses a greater security risk if it were to be hacked or leaked. Think of the privacy nightmare that unfolded after the Sony PlayStation leak in 2011 when reportedly 77 million accounts were hacked, leading to the compromise of millions of users’ credit cards. Google, in all its forms, doesn’t just deal with our financial information, but also very personal information – the idea of having the contents of your emails scanned for the purposes of advertising makes most people uncomfortable, and although this already occurred to some extent prior to the updated Privacy Policy, the idea that this information is now being combined with a great deal of other personal information – our internet searches and activities on YouTube – has created a very Big Brother-ish feeling. It seems as though there’s no escaping, and that every click is being stored in a massive portfolio of information about you, not belonging to you, but worth quite a chunk to advertisers who see the great value in personally customised online advertising.

In addition, there’s no sensible or comprehensive ‘opt out’ function. So, our choice? Google has told us that if we wish to opt out of their new policy, we can simply remove ourselves from all Google products. Of course this would be far easier if Google hadn’t managed to integrate itself so well into almost every facit of our online lives. Although many commentators have attempted to counter harsh criticism against Google, Privacy Commissioners around the world have been quick to raise their concerns. Privacy Commissioners in the Asia-Pacific region have written a joint letter of concern to Google’s CEO Larry Page, which includes the signature of Australia’s Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim.

Technology companies need to ensure they tread carefully when it comes to users’ privacy. Never before has an organisation’s privacy policy been susceptible to so much public scrutiny.

(The assistance of Alexandra Nash in authoring this blog is acknowledged).

Disclaimer: This blog is for general informational purposes only. It is not legal advice nor is it a substitute for legal advice. Readers should seek legal advice on their own particular circumstances. Alan Arnott is a technology & telecommunications lawyer with qualifications in computer science and law with Arnotts Lawyers Jones Bay Wharf in Sydney. For more information, please visit www.arnotts.net.au.

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