Backtracking: How Google Handles the Aftermath of Its TOS Changes

by Baba

The European Union recently demanded that Google further clarifies what their Terms of Service changes meant for EU citizens. As any professional from a search engine optimization agency can tell you, even the slightest move made by Google is sure to stir up the entire online universe and cause serious discussions.  The EU’s request is not by a long shot the first such claim that Google faces this year.  Ever since the Google update to the Terms of Service and privacy policies across the network of websites that Google owns and manages, many have taken up arms against the online information factory. The change became effective in January of 2012, and was almost immediately followed by demands from users who wanted to know exactly how this would affect them and their usage of the network. Google then came out with explanations viz the Privacy Policy reshuffle and even wrote a letter to the United States congress, explaining what the changes would not affect – important areas such as choosing not to be the target of online ads, refine their privacy settings and so on. Most importantly, Google representatives stated time and again, they would not be selling private user data to third-party advertisers, or any third parties whatsoever.

Google made headlines around the world earlier on this year, when it decided it would update and streamline almost all of its privacy policy documentation. This major change on the online scene essentially meant that the company would take its over seventy discreet privacy policy and Terms of Service documents and merge them into a single, more accessible page. However, while many applauded the web giant’s decision and saw it as a resolute step into the direction of listening to what the end-user has to say and wants, others argues that the move was actually meant to conceal behind-the-scenes work that could easily be considered questionable. In spite of the company’s much-touted pledge for transparency and privacy, it seemed at the time, in January 2012 decided all the private data a user shares via his or her Google account would become accessible across the Google network (most importantly on YouTube, which Google acquired in 2006).

The fears and rumors about Google’s potential lack of transparency were dismantled in July, however, when their notorious Data Liberation Front announced it would implement a set of seriously left-wing-oriented measures across the Google network. In case you’ve never heard of them, the Data Liberation Front are a group of engineers from Google, whose most serious initiative with respect to privacy and data mining came to life under the title of Google Takeout. The program aims to give the Google profile holder access to data from around the network – Google Buzz, Google Circles, the Google Profile and Google’s picture service, Picasa. The data can then be downloaded and stored offline, in the form of a .zip extension file.

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