How To: Understand Google's New Privacy Policy and Protect Your Data

So you might be aware the Google launched a new privacy policy earlier this month. In fact, you might have bookmarked it for later reading, and then though "screw it" when it popped up in your face and clicked "I accept". Hmm. What did you just accept? Should you be worried? I read it. Accepted it. And then I took some measures to protect myself.

The new privacy policy basically says that Google follows you, learns from you and changes what it serves you as a result of your behaviour across its various platforms and services. If you are logged into your Google account, they will track all of your behaviour, consolidate the information, run it through some fancy algorithms and then customize your experience of the online world as a result.

Looking for a new laptop? Sent a friend an email asking what they just bought? +1'd a post about a newly released gadget on Google Plus? Watched the unboxing of a fab shiny new tool from your fave tech channel on YouTube? Google's onto you. And you might notice that you suddenly start seeing more laptop ads, even in moments when you're searching for something else entirely. Even on a different device.

The Google knows what you want. And that new privacy policy you just accepted? It told you they would. (Although you might have missed that if you didn't read it. Doh!)

The one thing that might surprise you, however, is that they do this kind of tracking whether you are logged into your Google account, or not. Think about that for a second. Even if you are a Mac-lover who loathes the Goog, but who might end up on YouTube or Google every once in a while. They know, and they can cookie your device, and they can custom serve you ads and content. Not nearly as much as when you are logged in, of course. But they're watching. They're always watching.

Now, I have to admit that I was initially surprised by some of the backlash in the media about this new privacy policy. Oh, not just because I'm a self-professed Google fangirl (which I am) but because I honestly thought Google was already doing what it was now stating explicitly in its privacy policy. You see, when I signed up to use Google's tools, from Blogger to GMail to YouTube to Maps and everything in between, it never occurred to me that they wouldn't follow my activity across all of their tools.

However, if all this makes you uncomfortable, before you freak out and never log onto the Interwebs again, there are some very simple things you can do to protect yourself.

  1. If you are a shut-in don't have any Google accounts, you can choose to turn off your cookies in your browser. (Although this is known to affect your user experience on pretty much every website out there these days)
  2. If you're like the rest of us you do have a Google Account, start by checking your Google Dashboard which is basically a one-stop shop to view all the data Google has on you, associated to your account. Be warned: It can be a pretty striking experience when you see all the numbers of +1s, photos, videos, emails, etc, all in one place. You can customize what they track from within the dashboard, or...
  3. Use some of the other privacy tools from Google to control what they collect about you;
  4. Edit or turn off your Search history;
  5. Switch Gmail chat to “off the record”;
  6. Use encrypted Google search;
  7. Control the way Google tailors ads to your interests;
  8. Use Incognito mode on Chrome;
  9. Opt-out of Google Analytics tracking;
  10. And of course, get educated. Stay up to date by checking into the Google Public Policy Blog every once in a while to see what they are doing with your information. (Although a grain of salt helps, too since it is written by the Goog.)
The only thing worse than not being informed about how companies collect and use your data is choosing to remain ignorant about how companies collect and use your data. The tools are out there so take the time to look through them, edit your settings and exert some control.