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SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY > Google announces privacy changes

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Google will soon know far more about who you are and what you do on the Web, Washington Post reported. The Web giant announced on Jan. 24 that it plans to follow the activities of users across nearly all of its ubiquitous sites, including YouTube, Gmail and its leading search engine.

Google has already been collecting some of this information. But for the first time, it is combining data across its Web sites to stitch together a fuller portrait of users.

Consumers won’t be able to opt out of the changes, which take effect March 1. And experts say the policy shift will invite greater scrutiny from federal regulators of the company’s privacy and competitive practices.

The move will help Google better tailor its ads to people’s tastes. If someone watches an NBA clip online and lives in Washington, the firm could advertise Washington Wizards tickets in that person’s Gmail account.

Consumers could also benefit, the company said. When someone is searching for the word “jaguar,” Google would have a better idea of whether the person was interested in the animal or the car. Or the firm might suggest e-mailing contacts in New York when it learns you are planning a trip there.

’New policy might upset people’

But consumer advocates say the new policy might upset people who never expected their information would be shared across so many different Web sites.

A user signing up for Gmail, for instance, might never have imagined that the content of his or her messages could affect the experience on seemingly unrelated Web sites such as YouTube.

 “Google’s new privacy announcement is frustrating and a little frightening,” said Common Sense Media chief executive James Steyer. “Even if the company believes that tracking users across all platforms improves their services, consumers should still have the option to opt out, especially the kids and teens who are avid users of YouTube, Gmail and Google Search.”

Google said it would notify its hundreds of millions of users of the change through an e-mail and a message on its Web sites. It will apply to all of its services except for Google Wallet, the Chrome browser and Google Books.

January/27/2012

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