Should You Remove Your Google Search History Before Google’s New Privacy Policy Takes Effect?


Google knows when you’ve been sleeping, knows when you’re awake and even knows what you’ve been eating. Isn’t that a little TMI?(Photo credit: Aray Chen)

DownloadedFileYou’ve probably noticed this message on Gmail, Google, You Tube and all of the other Google-owned services you use lately. And like most of us, you probably clicked and ignored it.

We’re changing our privacy policy. This stuff matters.

If you do click “learn more,” you get this message:
“Our new (privacy) policy covers multiple products and features, reflecting our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google.”
What that really means is that beginning on March 1, 2012, all of your data is being interconnected across all Google products which include the Chrome browser, Google Voice, Google Docs, Gmail, You Tube and their social networking service, Google+. This information can be culled into a profile that knows almost everything about you — what you watch, read, eat, buy, your health concerns, your sexual orientation, your politics, your finances, your friends, who you talk to and how long you spoke to them, even your location at the time you sent that message.
According to Google, they know your wi-fi access points too.
Google uses this information mainly to provide you tailored content — and in highly-targeted data for their advertisers. Some of this data is sold to corporations.
It’s difficult to predict now how that information might come to haunt you at some point in the distant future that you can’t even imagine today.
In December, I was at a cocktail party at the very lavish and beautiful Silicon Valley home of a successful man who does investigative research for major law firms. Essentially, data mining. And what he told me was pretty fascinating.
“Nothing you do or say on the Internet or in email is private.” In fact he said, “If you don’t want something uses as evidence in a court of law, never, never put it in email.”
As a PR professional, I always tell my clients there is no such thing as “off the record” when talking to the press. But now, in the era of Internet and social media, we must remember there is not such thing as “off the record” on the Internet either.
So if you want your personal information “off the record” you need to take responsiblity for it. Because services like Google want to encourage you to share and interlink as much personal data as possible.
Yesterday, the Electronic Frontieers Foundation, which acts like the ACLU of the Internet to protect individual privacy rights, issued this bulletin:

“On March 1st, Google will implement its new, unified privacy policy, which will affect data Google has collected on you prior to March 1st as well as data it collects on you in the future. Until now, your Google Web History (your Google searches and sites visited) was cordoned off from Google’s other products.

If you want to keep Google from combining your Web History with the data they have gathered about you in their other products, such as YouTube or Google Plus, you may want to remove all items from your Web History and stop your Web History from being recorded in the future.”

For example, when you play certain video clips on You Tube, Google places a long term cookie on your computer. What this cookie could be used for in the future is anyone’s guess, but you might be better off not getting it in the first place.

According to the civil rights organization, ACLU this week:

“…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.

I always recommend using a private P.O. box and a voicemail number when entering personal data into online forms and shopping sites protect yourself from potential identity theft. You may particularly want to protect your identity if you are a public figure, musician, performer, CEO or celebrity.

It all depends on how much you value your personal privacy and if you can foresee any time in the future when your search history, email or other Internet data could be supoenaed and used as evidence.

Whether you are large business or a solopreneur, that could have huge implications sometime in the future that you just can’t predict today.

Here’s the Google privacy policy. Take time to read it. Don’t just dismiss it. As Google says: This stuff matters.
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