Google announced a plan Jan. 24 to link user data across its eMail, video, social-networking, and other services that it says will create a “beautifully simple and intuitive” user experience. But critics raised privacy concerns like those that helped kill the search giant’s Buzz social networking service.
The changes, which take effect March 1, will remove some of the legal hurdles Google Inc. faces in trying to link information across services from Gmail to YouTube to the Google Plus social network that replaced Buzz.
The company said the new system will give users more relevant search results and information, while helping advertisers find customers—especially on mobile devices.
For example, if you spend an hour on Google searching the web for skateboards, the next time you log into YouTube, you might get recommendations for videos featuring Tony Hawk, along with ads for his merchandise and the nearest place to buy them.
“If you’re signed into Google, we can do things like suggest search queries—or tailor your search results—based on the interests you’ve expressed in Google [Plus], Gmail, and YouTube,” the company says on a new overview page for its privacy policies. “We’ll better understand [what] you’re searching for and get you those results faster.”
The changes follow the shutdown of Buzz last month. After its introduction less than two years ago, the social networking tool was ridiculed for exposing users’ most-eMailed contacts to other participants by default, inadvertently revealing some users’ ongoing contact with ex-spouses and competitors.
Google has since made Plus the focal point of its challenge to Facebook’s social network. In the first seven months since its debut, Plus has attracted more than 90 million users, according to Google, which has invited schools and colleges to create Google Plus pages.
To promote Plus, Google recently began including recommendations about people and companies with Plus accounts in its search results. That change has provoked an outcry from critics who say Google is abusing its dominance in internet search to drive more traffic to its own services.
Google and the Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement last year that forbids Google from misrepresenting how it uses personal information and from sharing an individual’s data without prior approval. Google also agreed to biennial privacy audits for the next two decades.