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This article was published on February 29, 2012

Google’s TOS changes happen tomorrow: Here’s what you should know

Google’s TOS changes happen tomorrow: Here’s what you should know
Kate Russell
Story by

Kate Russell

Tech reporter, BBC Click's website diva & self-proclaimed Head of the Bureau For Not Taking Yourself Too Seriously. Views expressed are Tech reporter, BBC Click's website diva & self-proclaimed Head of the Bureau For Not Taking Yourself Too Seriously. Views expressed are mine alone etc.

For those of you who’ve been keeping me company on Twitter today, you’ll know I set myself the mind-numbing task of reading the new Ts&Cs Google are introducing tomorrow. The company has everyone in a bit of a stir, as it brings together all of the data the search giant has collected about you across its many online properties.

Take a look at your dashboard for a full run down of these (you’ll need to log in to your account, so careful, it will be recorded!), but they include Gmail, Search, Google+, Docs, YouTube, Picassa  & Blogger. When you look down the list it’s actually quite frightening for someone like me — who due to the nature of my work pretty much lives in the cloud — how completely Google is woven into the fabric of my life.

French regulators have said this week that they will launch an investigation as the new privacy policy doesn’t conform to EU law. Google responded by saying that this uproar was down to complaints from its competitors (life is so hard at the top!).

So, what did I get out of reading the Ts & Cs today apart from a caffeine headache and a couple more wrinkles in my brow?

Well, they are pretty much what you’d expect – for the most part; a long winded exercise in corporate arse-covering, telling you all about how they are going to use/share/protect your data to the best of their ability for things like targeted advertising & enhancing services. Anonymous identifiers, such as pixel tags & cookies will be used to help them achieve this more effectively (ha! not so anonymous after all then?). No surprises there though, they’ve been doing that for ages. And is it really such a bad thing to have ads that might be useful to you (and which you can eliminate if you use an ad-blocker anyway) and service features like language translation happen automatically?

But there were a couple of interesting take-outs I got from my little reading session today.

“We may use the name you provide for your Google Profile across all of the services we offer that require a Google Account. In addition, we may replace past names associated with your Google Account so that you are represented consistently across all our services.”

So bad luck if you have a blog under a pseudo-name or use several different personas for business & social activity then.

“If other users already have your email, or other information that identifies you, we may show them your publicly visible Google Profile information, such as your name and photo.”

Erm…I don’t necessarily want everyone I reply to by email to know what I look like and where I live, even if it is only where I live on the Internet!

When it comes to talking about accessing & updating your information Google has done a thorough job of safe-guarding against the kind of backlash Facebook suffered last year following the revelations about their failure to truly remove data you have deleted. A campaign to flood their customer services with requests went viral, which must have been a major pain in the neck-book for the social giant (you see what I did there?).

After rambling on for 2 and half paragraphs about what they will and won’t do with regards to data requests & alterations, the last line states:

“after you delete information from our services, we may not immediately delete residual copies from our active servers and may not remove information from our backup systems.”

Is it just me or did Google’s Ts & Cs just thumb its nose at me?

So will I be curbing my use of Google services tomorrow? I’d love to say yes, but the practicalities of finding & setting up replacements for everything Google currently manages for me, then porting all that data across and making sure all the people I interact with for business know where to find stuff, makes the possibility slim at best. More of a broadband-pipe dream really.

I just hope they really do have security locked down as tight as the privacy policy claims – as with my social accounts, email, calendar, documents, phone number, address & credit card details all stored on a server that could be based anywhere in the world in their hands, I would hate another embarrassing episode like Sony had last year.

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