Instead of the 60+ policies that previously applied to its various products and services (YouTube, Gmail, Picasa, G+), Google recently consolidated them into one across-the-board policy that is shorter and simpler to read. However, that policy potentially allows Google to learn more information about users and gather that information into what some critics are calling online “personal dossiers.”
Google justified this move by suggesting it would create “one simple and intuitive experience” across all Google products. For example, if you belong to a classic automobiles circle on Google+ and you search for the term “Jaguar” using Google’s search engine, then Google can be fairly certain that you are interested in the car and not the animal.
Of course, what Google didn’t mention is that by building more complete individual profiles, it can also sell more advertising and present that advertising in more consistent and targeted ways.
But while Google account holders cannot opt out of the new cross-platform sharing policy, there are still ways in which we can reduce the amount of information that Google gathers. Here are some suggestions:
- Do not log in to your Google account. Google can only build a personal profile if you are logged into your Google account. There is normally no need to log in to your account if you are just using Google’s search engine, watching YouTube videos, or browsing pictures on Picasa. If you do need to log in for Gmail or Google+, for example then you can always log out again before you use other Google services.
- Use separate e-mail addresses and/or account names for different Google services. You can open as many Google accounts as you want and use different log-ins for different services. This way, Google will build separate profiles and will not have the opportunity to consolidate across platforms.
- Delete and turn off your web history. You can elect to disable Google’s web history feature, which allows it to track and store your browsing activity. Log in to your account and click on your name or the arrow next your e-mail address in the top right-hand corner of the page. Click on Account settings. Scroll down to Services and click on Go to web history. Here you will be able to Remove all Web History and stop (Pause) Google from recording your future web browsing activity.
- Become familiar with your Dashboard. Google’s Dashboard service gives you an overview of what Google knows about you. Here you can see a summary of your Google services and manage what information appears about you on the web.
- Use a different search engine. If you don’t want your information to be tracked by Google when you browse the web, then you can use another search engine like Microsoft’s Bing, Yahoo! Search orDuckDuckGo.
Google also gives you the opportunity to manage the ads that you will see when you use Google services. Although you can’t turn off ads completely, you can choose the type of ads you see by taking advantage of Google’s Ad Preferences tool.
Keep in mind that sharing of information across Google services can sometimes lead to a more efficient online experience. Spend some time and find the privacy settings and protections that are right for you.