Privacy SOS

Google’s new privacy policy is creepy

Google announced today that a new privacy policy will take effect on March 1, 2012. The policy will govern all of Google's seemingly zillions of services and products. Kudos to Google for consolidating their policies into one, and for making it reasonably easy for ordinary people to understand. But let's not kid ourselves: there's some scary stuff in it.

As you read through this summary and the longer policy itself, keep in mind the fact that any data Google collects and stores is available not only to other corporations who buy it from the data giant, but also to the government. The laws governing our digital privacy are woefully inadequate and in some cases incredibly invasive, allowing for police access to our data even if they have no evidence that we've done anything wrong. Unfortunately, Google's business model requires that it collect and store vast amounts of data on its users. The image below is a screenshot from Google's page on government data requests, showing that the United States requests info on its users far more than any other country. (Click on the photo to enlarge; click here to visit Google's government requests page.)

Google's search and web tools sure are convenient, but they are not free. They come at a cost, and that cost is our privacy.

Having said that, here are highlights to watch out for in their new policy:

"We may collect device-specific information (such as your hardware model, operating system version, unique device identifiers, and mobile network information including phone number). Google may associate your device identifiers or phone number with your Google Account."

That is creepy. It means that Google can associate your particular phone with your particular phone number and even your telecommunications carrier. It also means Google will find out what kind of computer you use, what operating system you use, and possibly even information like the serial number of your machine.

Google's new policy also states that it has the right to collect your IP address (which can be used to trace you to your physical address), your search queries, and cookies that uniquely identify you in connection with your Google Account. This was all old hat. 

But there is something else: Google is now saying that it has the right to collect all of your call records, including who you call, when, for how long you talk, and SMS routing information. It doesn't say if this applies only to calls made through Google's services or if it is referring to calls you make on your mobile phone. After all, it already told us that it has the right to "associate your device identifiers or phone number with your Google Account," and to "collect device-specific information." Google, are you going to monitor our call logs now? Stay tuned for clarification on this point.

The policy also states that Google will collect your location information, even if you have your GPS turned off. Additionally, it says it will collect cookies data and other information about your devices. No surprise there.

But the policy also states that Google can change your information and show information about you to others without your express consent:

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. 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.

Of course, Google offers a number of ways in which you can tailor your settings to get the most privacy possible. Those are listed below.


  • Review and control certain types of information tied to your Google Account by using Google Dashboard.
  • View and edit your ads preferences, such as which categories might interest you, using the Ads Preferences Manager. You can also opt out of certain Google advertising services here.
  • Use our editor to see and adjust how your Google Profile appears to particular individuals.
  • Control who you share information with.
  • Take information out of many of our services.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.