Google Revises Its Privacy Policy

Google is revising its privacy policies and making it clear that information collected by one part of the company will be shared throughout Google's online empire. Privacy. advocates are criticizing the move.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Google is revamping its privacy policies, and privacy advocates are not happy about it. The changes will allow Google to track its registered users across the Web. NPR's Steve Henn reports.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Google executives say they're making these changes for simplicity's sake. Taken together, Google sites and services have more than 70 separate privacy policies. There's one for search, one for YouTube, another for Gmail. But starting March 1st, most of these will be rolled into one. And in most cases, information collected by one part of the company will be shared throughout Google's online empire. That means if you Google Prozac, you might see an ad for Zoloft the next time you're on YouTube.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The number one prescribed brand of its kind: Zoloft. When you know more about what's wrong, you can help make it right.

HENN: Or a link could pop up in Gmail. Jeffrey Chester at the Center for Digital Democracy says Google is in a fierce battle to give online advertisers exactly what they want.

JEFFREY CHESTER: Increasingly, online advertisers want to be assured that they can access users online, knowing everything possible about them.

HENN: Google's rival in the space is Facebook. And this week, Facebook's rolling out dozens of new apps to make sharing easier, apps that will automatically post to your Facebook page what you're doing online or even in the real world. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg calls it frictionless sharing.

MARK ZUCKERBERG: You don't have to like a book. You can just read a book, which is good, because you've probably read about 10 times more books than you'd want to like on Facebook, anyway.

HENN: For advertisers, this is a boon. But for all these new Facebook apps to work, you have to opt in first. What Google's doing is a bit different. It's taking existing services, services you may already use, like Gmail, and changing what it does with the information it collects on them.

RYAN CALO: I think the danger for Google is that people may be surprised and may be creeped out by just how much the company seems to know about them.

HENN: Ryan Calo directs privacy studies at Stanford's Center for Internet and Society. He says there's legitimate reason to be concerned, but there's also a chance that Google will use all this data it collects to create new, better products. And that's exactly what Alan Eustace, a VP at Google, says the company is hoping to do.

ALAN EUSTACE: An example might be a calendar will say I have a meeting in San Francisco, and another product will, you know, look at the maps and the traffic situation and say, hey, you know, if you want to leave at this time, you know, you'll actually make it, but this time, you won't.

HENN: Eustace says that's only possible if different Google products can share the information they collect with each other. Of course, that makes selling ads easier too.

EUSTACE: Absolutely.

HENN: And selling ads is, after all, the business that Google is in. Steve Henn, NPR News, Silicon Valley.

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