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Summary: Google’s Privacy Policy – What it Really Means

Gmail’s privacy policy is one of the shortest I’ve ever read, and is broken up into nice headings with concise paragraphs and bullet points. Full disclosure is their big thing – they want their users to be totally aware of what is going on. They want you to trust them with your information, while perpetuating the idea that what’s yours is yours.

While reading this, I was struck by how often Google tries to draw attention away from the fact that even though what’s yours is yours, it’s only yours if/when they say you can have it. In other words, Google “may” use the information you give them to do things if they deem its usage as appropriate to their needs. Example: We may process your personal information on a server located outside the country where you live. Why? They don’t say. But they do say that they might do it, so you’ve been forewarned.

In terms of privacy and rights to your own information, once you use any of Google’s services or click on a link that they provided to you via their services or application, they let you know that they will protect that information…no matter what:

We aim to maintain our services in a manner that protects information from accidental or malicious destruction. Because of this, after you delete information from our services, we may not immediately delete residual copies from our active servers and may not remove information from our backup systems. – Isn’t it interesting that Google wants to protect your information by storing it in a place where nobody can get to it, including you. When you decide that you no longer want your information available digitally, your deleting it doesn’t actually get rid of it. Google wants you to know that they’re giving you the opportunity to delete it, perhaps to make you feel as if its gone, but it really isn’t.

Google also lets you know that they “will share personal information with companies, organizations or individuals outside of Google if we have a good-faith belief that access, use, preservation or disclosure of the information is reasonably necessary.” – Good-faith? Needless to say, they don’t elaborate.

Another thing to note is that Google will track your mobile device and store information like: “telephony log information like your phone number, calling-party number, forwarding numbers, time and date of calls, duration of calls, SMS routing information and types of calls.” – While they say that this is to ensure that your experience with Google services is as beneficial as possible, I don’t see why they would need to know who you are calling and for how long. They are big on the idea that everything they do is “to show you more relevant search results and ads, to help you connect with people or to make sharing with others quicker and easier.” Has anyone ever complained that their search results on Google weren’t relevant enough? If so, it’s as simple as changing keywords and terms, and searching again. I don’t think that Google reading through your phone records is going to help much.

I found this bit very interesting as well: When showing you tailored ads, we will not associate a cookie or anonymous identifier with sensitive categories, such as those based on race, religion, sexual orientation or health. – This is not necessarily true. While searching for blogs about representations of women in film and/or fiction, I have, and still, get ads promoting mail-order brides and the like. Google clearly thinks I am a straight male (with money?). On that note, they have a sub-heading titled “Transparency and Choice” which outlines all the ways in which you can view how your Google account links your activities on certain websites. It shows you that you can adjust things on your Dashboard and limit the amount of information you give to Google by eliminating cookies. However, they remind you that “many of our services may not function properly if your cookies are disabled.” So, unless you give it all up, you can’t use what they’ve got.

I could go on about Google’s language drafting and hidden indicators for ages, but I’ll end off the way they do, by ensuring you that any time their Privacy Policy changes, you will know about it. It’s also nice that they promise to “keep prior versions of this Privacy Policy in an archive for your review.” Where is this archive, anyway? It makes me think of Facebook and their constantly changing interface that everyone complains about for the first 2 weeks and then uses anyway. Does anyone even remember/care what it looked like before? Will they stop using it if something else changes? Probably not.

Works Cited: http://www.google.com/intl/en/policies/privacy/

About Judy

I am a posthumanism scholar researching how VR and AR technology affects our conception of the body and helps us to redefine the physical and digital spaces we occupy. I am currently completing my Ph.D at the University of Waterloo.



  1. Pingback: WordPress’ “fascinating terms of service” « New Media Genres - January 28, 2013

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