Alma Whitten, director of privacy for products and engineering at Google Inc., is responding to the Jan. 29 editorial "Google's latest digital 'innovation' could be a real threat to privacy." The editorial stated the changes "ought to give great pause to consumers and should be a wake-up call for Washington to get more serious about protecting our privacy online."
If you use Gmail, YouTube or any other Google services, it's been impossible to miss we're updating our privacy policies on March 1. These kinds of changes can lead to lots of confusion, so let me keep it simple: We're doing this to make our privacy commitments more understandable and to make Google work better for you.
First, simplicity. Google started in 1998 as a search engine. Since then we've added a whole range of services that people love: Gmail, Google Maps, Chrome, Google Docs, Android and Google+ to name a few.
Second, we want to create a better user experience. For the most part, our privacy policies already allowed us to combine information gathered in connection with one service with information from other services when users are signed into their Google accounts. Microsoft, Yahoo and other online companies do the same. It lets us treat you as a single user across Google when you're signed in.
Today, for example, you can immediately add an appointment to your Google Calendar when a message in Gmail looks like it's about a meeting. You can use the Google+ sharing feature "circles" to send friends directions without leaving Google Maps. Or you can use your Gmail address book to auto-complete an email address when you're inviting someone to collaborate on a Google Docs spreadsheet. It's all seamless, and it saves you time.
However, our privacy policies have restricted our ability to combine information within an account for two services: Web History (search history for signed-in users) and YouTube, which we acquired in 2007. So, if you're signed in and searching Google for cooking recipes, our current privacy policies wouldn't let us recommend cooking videos when you visited YouTube based on your searches even though you were signed into the same Google Account for both.
Our approach to privacy isn't changing. We're not collecting any new information as a result of this change. We're not altering any of your privacy settings. And we still won't sell your personal information to advertisers. We just want to use the information you already trust us with to make your experience better.
If you don't think information sharing will improve your experience, you don't need to sign in to use services like Search, Maps and YouTube. If you are signed in, you can use our many privacy tools to do things like edit or turn off your search history, control the way Google tailors ads to your interests and browse the Web "incognito" using Chrome.
Providing transparency, control and security remains crucial to keeping our users happy. We build Google for you, and we think these changes will make our services even better.