Google’s New Unified Privacy Policy: Much Ado About Nothing?

Google this week announced that it will be placing 60 of its Web services under one umbrella privacy policy that will take effect March 1 and allow those services to share data between them. The change is mandatory, although Google Books, Google Wallet and Google Chrome are excluded. Responses to the changes have been mixed so far.

The Washington Post quoted European Commissioner for Justice Vivian Reding, who said: “Google was quick. Even before the Commission decided on the new European law, Google made the first step in the direction of new privacy rules. I can only applaud the direction.”

In addition, Mike Elgan at Datamation wrote a piece called “Ignore the Hype” in which he said: “Google is integrating services. That’s all.” He noted that Google won’t learn anything about you that it didn’t know before, and this change could have positive benefits: “For example, when Google learns how you spell a name in Gmail, it will remember that spelling on other Google services,” he wrote.

On the other side of the debate, U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) told The Washington Post that user control over what data is shared between Google’s services is “imperative.” James Steyer, CEO at Common Sense Media, said: “This announcement is pretty frustrating and potentially frightening from a kids and family and teenager standpoint and an overall consumer privacy standpoint.”

In addition, The Washington Post noted that agencies in Ireland and France are examining Google’s changes, with one European consumer advocacy group expressing concerns that Google users will find their hands tied if they want to limit how their information can be used.