Companies do that all the time without much (or any) notice. But Google is Google: big, influential, and intimately tied into the lives of a large percentage of the online population. So Google’s privacy changes got more scrutiny. A lot more.
From Google’s perspective, it makes good business sense (more information leads to better ad targeting) and the company says it will lead to a better, more seamless customer experience as well.
But for many who are concerned about online privacy, it’s too much information in one company’s hands. What do you think?
If you’re concerned about your online privacy and want to use Google products while minimizing those privacy concerns, what can you do? Here are 7 suggestions…
1. Stop Using Google: Now, I wouldn’t personally do this. I love Google and count on many Google products almost every day. I’m also not very concerned about this kind of privacy. Sure, I want to keep my financial and other sensitive accounts private so I’m not exposed to ID theft or other crimes, but I don’t really care if a company knows what I’ve searched for and what videos I’ve watched. But if you care, not using Google is one of the most straightforward ways to deal with this issue (keep in mind that other companies track and store information too). For most people, however, less drastic measures make more sense, like…
2. Mix In Other Providers: If you don’t put all your eggs in one basket, they won’t all be at risk. So, if you’ve been using Gmail, perhaps switch back to use EarthLink Web Mail for your email and continue using Google for search. Or switch to Vimeo for video sharing instead of YouTube. You may just want to use multiple search engines – Bing and Google – instead of just Google.
3. Sign Out…or Don’t Sign In: Your Google profile grows when you use Google services while signed in. Some services, like Google + or Gmail aren’t usable if you aren’t signed in (so you can get your email or interact with your friends). Others like the Chrome browser or Google search work just fine without being signed in. In Chrome, go to Preferences and click Personal Stuff under Settings to see whether you are signed in to Google or not. You can also click the Disconnect Your Google Account button if you want Google to stop syncing browser data with your Google account. For Google search, look in the upper-right corner of the web page. If it says Sign in, then you’re not yet signed in: so search away. If you see your name there, you’re signed in. Click your name and then the Sign out link to sign out before you search.
4. Become a History Major: OK, not really. But if you’re concerned about the privacy of your searches, you should devote some major attention to your Google search history (they call it Web History). Simply go to www.google.com/history/. From there, you can turn on or off your Web History, remove individual items from your history, remove all your web history, and learn more about Google’s Web History (click the learn more link for details).
5. Turn Off or Modify Personalized Ads: Google has an Ads Preferences page that lets you see information about the types of ads targeting you and why. (I was happy to learn that they thought I was younger than I am based on my browsing history.) You can edit various settings here or click the Opt out link on the left to turn off personalized ads. Keep in mind, you’ll still see all the ads, they’ll just be more random.
6. Monitor Your Google Dashboard: This can be a bit overwhelming, but Google does give you a unified look at your Google account, with all the Google properties you use, their settings, and ways to edit or delete information and manage your preferences. Sign in at www.google.com/dashboard/ and take a look.
7. If You’re Going…Take Your Stuff with You: If you decide to stop using any Google product, an engineering team at Google called the Data Liberation Front offers detailed information about how you can take your data with you. (It also works in reverse if you want to bring information from another service to Google.) Get all the details at www.dataliberation.org.
Let us know if this is an issue for you. And if it is, tell us whether you have modified any of your online habits.