Google’s new Privacy Policy

Our updated Privacy Policy takes effect today, March 1. As you use our products one thing will be clear: it’s the same Google experience that you’re used to, with the same controls.

And because we’re making these changes, over time we’ll be able to improve our products in ways that help our users get the most from the web.

While we’ve undertaken the most extensive user education campaign in our history to explain the coming changes, we know there has been a fair amount of chatter and confusion.

Here are a few important points to bear in mind:

Our Privacy Policy is now much easier to understand.

We’ve included the key parts from more than 60 product-specific notices into our main Google Privacy Policy—so there’s no longer any need to be your own mini search engine if you want to work out what’s going on. Our Privacy Policy now explains, for the vast majority of our services, what data we’re collecting and how we may use it, in plain language.

Our Privacy Policy will enable us to build a better, more intuitive user experience across Google for signed-in users.

If you’re signed in to Google, you expect our products to work really beautifully together. For example, if you’re working on Google Docs and you want to share it with someone on Gmail, you want their email right there ready to use. Our privacy policies have always allowed us to combine information from different products with your account—effectively using your data to provide you with a better service. However, we’ve been restricted in our ability to combine your YouTube and Search histories with other information in your account. Our new Privacy Policy gets rid of those inconsistencies so we can make more of your information available to you when using Google.

So in the future, if you do frequent searches for Jamie Oliver, we could recommend Jamie Oliver videos when you’re looking for recipes on YouTube—or we might suggest ads for his cookbooks when you’re on other Google properties.

Our privacy controls aren’t changing.

The new policy doesn’t change any existing privacy settings or how any personal information is shared outside of Google. We aren’t collecting any new or additional information about users. We won’t be selling your personal data. And we will continue to employ industry-leading security to keep your information safe.

If you don’t think information sharing will improve your experience, you can use our privacy tools to do things like edit or turn off your search history and YouTube history, control the way Google tailors ads to your interests and browse the web “incognito” using Chrome. You can use services like Search, Maps and YouTube if you are not signed in. You can even separate your information into different accounts, since we don’t combine personal information across them. And we’re committed to data liberation, so if you want to take your information elsewhere you can.

We’ll continue to look for ways to make it simpler for you to understand and control how we use the information you entrust to us. We build Google for you, and we think these changes will make our services even better.

Updating our privacy policies and terms of service

In just over a month we will make some changes to our privacy policies and Google Terms of Service. This stuff matters, so we wanted to explain what’s changing, why and what these changes mean for users.

First, our privacy policies. Despite trimming our policies in 2010, we still have more than 70 (yes, you read right … 70) privacy documents covering all of our different products. This approach is somewhat complicated. It’s also at odds with our efforts to integrate our different products more closely so that we can create a beautifully simple, intuitive user experience across Google.

So we’re rolling out a new main privacy policy that covers the majority of our products and explains what information we collect, and how we use it, in a much more readable way. While we’ve had to keep a handful of separate privacy notices for legal and other reasons, we’re consolidating more than 60 into our main Privacy Policy.

Regulators globally have been calling for shorter, simpler privacy policies—and having one policy covering many different products is now fairly standard across the web.

These changes will take effect on March 1, and we’re starting to notify users today, including via email and a notice on our homepage.

What does this mean in practice? The main change is for users with Google Accounts. 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.

Our recently launched personal search feature is a good example of the cool things Google can do when we combine information across products. Our search box now gives you great answers not just from the web, but your personal stuff too. So if I search for restaurants in Munich, I might see Google+ posts or photos that people have shared with me, or that are in my albums. Today we can also do things like make it easy for you to read a memo from Google Docs right in your Gmail, or add someone from your Gmail contacts to a meeting in Google Calendar.

But there’s so much more that Google can do to help you by sharing more of your information with … well, you. We can make search better—figuring out what you really mean when you type in Apple, Jaguar or Pink. We can provide more relevant ads too. For example, it’s January, but maybe you’re not a gym person, so fitness ads aren’t that useful to you. We can provide reminders that you’re going to be late for a meeting based on your location, your calendar and an understanding of what the traffic is like that day. Or ensure that our spelling suggestions, even for your friends’ names, are accurate because you’ve typed them before. People still have to do way too much heavy lifting, and we want to do a better job of helping them out.

Second, the Google Terms of Service—terms you agree to when you use our products. As with our privacy policies, we’ve rewritten them so they’re easier to read. We’ve also cut down the total number, so many of our products are now covered by our new main Google Terms of Service. Visit the Google Terms of Service page to find the revised terms.

Finally, what we’re not changing. We remain committed to data liberation, so if you want to take your information elsewhere you can. We don’t sell your personal information, nor do we share it externally without your permission except in very limited circumstances like a valid court order. We try hard to be transparent about the information we collect, and to give you meaningful choices about how it is used—for example our Ads Preferences Manager enables you to edit the interest categories we advertise against or turn off certain Google ads altogether. And we continue to design privacy controls, like Google+’s circles, into our products from the ground up.

We believe this new, simpler policy will make it easier for people to understand our privacy practices as well as enable Google to improve the services we offer. Whether you’re a new Google user or an old hand, please do take the time to read our new privacy policy and terms, learn more about the changes we’re making and understand the controls we offer.

Tech tips that are Good to Know

Does this person sound familiar? He can’t be bothered to type a password into his phone every time he wants to play a game of Angry Birds. When he does need a password, maybe for his email or bank website, he chooses one that’s easy to remember like his sister’s name—and he uses the same one for each website he visits. For him, cookies come from the bakery, IP addresses are the locations of Intellectual Property and a correct Google search result is basically magic.

Most of us know someone like this. Technology can be confusing, and the industry often fails to explain clearly enough why digital literacy matters. So today in the U.S. we’re kicking off Good to Know, our biggest-ever consumer education campaign focused on making the web a safer, more comfortable place. Our ad campaign, which we introduced in the U.K. and Germany last fall, offers privacy and security tips: Use 2-step verification! Remember to lock your computer when you step away! Make sure your connection to a website is secure! It also explains some of the building blocks of the web like cookies and IP addresses. Keep an eye out for the ads in newspapers and magazines, online and in New York and Washington, D.C. subway stations.

The campaign and Good to Know website build on our commitment to keeping people safe online. We’ve created resources like privacy videos, the Google Security Center, the Family Safety Center and Teach Parents Tech to help you develop strong privacy and security habits. We design for privacy, building tools like Google Dashboard, Me on the Web, the Ads Preferences Manager and Google+ Circles—with more on the way.

We encourage you to take a few minutes to check out the Good to Know site, watch some of the videos, and be on the lookout for ads in your favorite newspaper or website. We hope you’ll learn something new about how to protect yourself online—tips that are always good to know!

Update Jan 17: Updated to include more background about Good to Know.

DatenDialog - Big Tent goes to Berlin

In May, we held our first Big Tent conference near London, where we debated some of the hot issues relating to the Internet and society with policy-makers, academics and NGOs. The term "big tent” not only described the marquee venue but also our aim to include diverse points of view.

After the U.K. success, we decided to export the concept. Yesterday we welcomed more than 200 guests in Berlin, Germany to the second Big Tent event, entitled DatenDialog.

This dialogue about data tackled the issue of online privacy from a variety of angles. It was appropriate to hold it in Germany, which is a pacesetter both in its concern about privacy and its ideas for safeguarding personal data. During the one-day event, we debated questions such as: what does responsible collaboration between the tech industry and the data protection authorities look like? Do we need new regulation to manage the Internet and the large amount of data produced in the online world? Who is responsible for educating users and how does the tech industry make sure it builds privacy controls into its products?

Speakers included the German State Secretary for the Interior Cornelia Rogall-Grothe and the Federal Data Protection Commissioner Peter Schaar, alongside international authors and bloggers Cory Doctorow and Jeff Jarvis who appeared via live video chat from the U.S.

The debate was always lively, sometimes polarised—Cory likened amalgamated data to nuclear waste while Jeff appealed to governments not to regulate for the worst case—but all seemed to agree that it was a worthwhile and timely exercise to explore these important issues.

You can watch the highlights soon on our Big Tent YouTube channel, and stay tuned for more Big Tents on a range of topics around the world in the coming months.

(Cross-posted from the European Public Policy Blog)

Greater choice for wireless access point owners

From tagging a post with your location, to checking in to a restaurant, to simply finding out where you are, location-based services have become some of the most popular features of today’s Internet. One of the key ways technology companies are able to determine a location for these services is through a location database, which matches publicly broadcast information about local wireless networks with their approximate geographic location. By looking for wireless access points that are close to a user’s phone, location providers can return the approximate location you need. In addition, this method is a good alternative to other approaches, like GPS, because it’s faster, it works indoors, and it’s more battery-efficient.

The wireless access point information we use in our location database, the Google Location Server, doesn’t identify people. But as first mentioned in September, we can do more to address privacy concerns.

We’re introducing a method that lets you opt out of having your wireless access point included in the Google Location Server. To opt out, visit your access point’s settings and change the wireless network name (or SSID) so that it ends with “_nomap”.  For example, if your SSID is “Network”, you‘d need to change it to “Network_nomap”.

To get started, visit this Help Center article to learn more about the process and to find links with specific instructions on how to change an access point’s SSID for various wireless access point manufacturers.

As we explored different approaches for opting-out access points from the Google Location Server, we found that a method based on wireless network names provides the right balance of simplicity as well as protection against abuse. Specifically, this approach helps protect against others opting out your access point without your permission.

Finally, because other location providers will also be able to observe these opt-outs, we hope that over time the “_nomap” string will be adopted universally. This would help benefit all users by providing everyone with a unified opt-out process regardless of location provider.

Update Nov 21: Edited punctuation to clarify the "_nomap" tag.

(Cross posted on the European Public Policy Blog)