Early on the week of January 23rd, 2012, Google announced a substantial change to their privacy policy across most of their applications. You can read it here. In a nutshell, Google now makes it very clear that that they will collect your name, address, telephone, IP address, device information, location, browser information, search results, and Gmail messages to associate them with one master account. This new privacy policy is a big step because it allows all of Google's applications to share your information liberally. By doing this, Google will know exactly who you are whenever you use its products.

Now, you may ask why this is even an issue as aren't Google's services tracking this information independently anyway, and that’s a valid question. What it really comes down to is how much you as an individual value your privacy and anonymity. Do you want a single company to have a record of everything that you do online? If you don’t mind in any way, then Google's new policy will provide you a benefit. More targeted ads and more personalized information will streamline your online experience. However, this comes at the cost of maintaining your privacy. Why should a company track everything that you do? Privacy is not just for criminals or people conducting fishy activity, you as an individual have a right to keep your personal activity your business if you so desire. Keeping your information private helps knock out spam, prevent identity theft, and keeps unwanted people or organizations from finding out sensitive information about you.

While the information being collected by Google as a result of this new privacy policy is not unheard of by any means, it does bring up the internet-age-old question of what to do if you want to maintain due diligence in keeping your private information hidden online. In fact, there are a number of relatively easy ways to use the web as you always do, but to make sure that people aren’t getting your information unintentionally. A few examples are:

  • DuckDuckGo | About DuckDuckGo – An example of a search engine that doesn’t store or track any information about you whatsoever.
  • NoScript / NotScripts – Add-ons to your browser that give you full control over the what kind of Javascript is loaded on your machine. Javascript is one of the biggest culprits in obtaining information about you without your knowledge, and controlling exactly which sites can run Javascript on your machine can help keep your information out of the internet ether.
  • Tor – This is a bit more advanced than the two above, but Tor it is a program you install on your machine that sends all internet communication through “a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location.”. Basically, it prevents IP tracking, which is the basis for determining from where and who any piece of traffic is coming.

At the end of the day, online privacy concerns must be shouldered by an individual's reason. At the end of the day, would you rather have your information haphazardly spread across the internet in a multitude of databases so you can receive better ads and personalized information, or would you rather know exactly who has your information, why they have it, what they will do with it, and the ability to remove it should you desire to do so?

P.S. If this is the first time you have really considered online privacy, you might want to take a look at these more in-depth tools and tips for better privacy browsing practices or for removing your private information from the internet:

  • http://www.cdt.org/privacy/guide/basic/tips.php - A good, succinct list of privacy tips
  • Abine - They provide a wide range of privacy application, including a service that will remove your information from various online People Searches.
  • A Proxy Server – This is a great Wikipedia entry. Proxy servers mask your IP address much like Tor does, but are more powerful.