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Network World - When you need to look something up, do you Google it? Do you enjoy watching cat videos on You Tube? Do you hang out with friends on Google+? Have a Gmail account?
If so, you need to understand that beginning March 1 all of the information that Google collects about you on each of those sites will be combined into one uber-database. Google says this change to its private policy is designed to give you a better user experience. Critics say it's just a way for Google to learn more about you, so it can bombard you with targeted ads.
Privacy spat: Microsoft vs. Google vs. the truth
Google maintains that its privacy principles remain unchanged and that it does not sell its users personal information or share it without their permission (outside of a valid legal request such as a court order).
In a recent blog post, Betsy Masiello, Policy Manager at Google, says, "Our privacy controls have not changed. Period. Our users can: edit and delete their search history; edit and delete their YouTube viewing history; use many of our services signed in or out; use Google Dashboard and our Ads Preferences Manager to see what data we collect and manage the way it is used; plus take advantage of our data liberation efforts, if they want to remove information from our services."
According to Google, tracking data has been common practice since Gmail's introduction in 2004. The only real change, says Google, is that now, this practice is spread across all of its services. (Watch a slideshow of how to protect your online privacy.)
Here's what you need to know about Google's privacy policies:
1. When you apply for a Google account, Google requests your name, email address, phone number and, possibly, credit card information for your Google Profile. You can avoid exposing your publicly visible profile by omitting or fabricating this information.
However, if you provide any credit card information, your personal data can be extracted from the credit card's authorization and verification process, which supplies Google an accurate, updated profile. If you are using a fee-based Google service, consider using an alternate form of payment or remember to indicate that the physical mailing address is different from the billing address. This will not, however, protect your real name.
2. If you have created multiple identities to remain anonymous (for whatever reasons), Google can attach your single profile to all of its services replacing all your pseudonyms with one profile account. If you prefer to remain anonymous, either don't supply any profile information (especially a photo) or provide different, unique information for each pseudonym.