Changing our privacy policies, not our privacy controls

Last week we heard from members of Congress about Google’s plans to update our privacy policies by consolidating them into a single document on March 1. Protecting people’s privacy is something we think about all day across the company, and we welcome discussions about our approach.

We hope this letter, in which we respond to the members’ questions, clears up the confusion about these changes. We’re updating our privacy policies for two reasons:

First, we’re trying to make them simpler and more understandable, which is something that lawmakers and regulators have asked technology companies to do. By folding more than 60 product-specific privacy policies into our main Google one, we’re explaining our privacy commitments to users of those products in 85% fewer words.

Second, we want to make our users’ experience seamless and easy by allowing more sharing of information among products when users are signed into their Google Accounts. In other words, we want to make more of your information available to you when you’re signed into Google services.

Some important things aren’t changing:
  • We’re still keeping your private information private -- we’re not changing the visibility of any information you have stored with Google.
  • We’re still allowing you to do searches, watch videos on YouTube, get driving directions on Google Maps, and perform other tasks without signing into a Google Account.
  • We’re still offering you choice and control through privacy tools like Google Dashboard and Ads Preferences Manager that help you understand and manage your data.
  • We still won’t sell your personal information to advertisers.
  • We’re still offering data liberation if you’d prefer to close your Google Account and take your data elsewhere.
While our privacy policies will change on March 1, our commitment to our privacy principles is as strong as ever.

Setting the record straight about our privacy policy changes

A lot has been said about our new privacy policy. Some have praised us for making our privacy policy easier to understand. Others have asked questions, including members of Congress, and that’s understandable too. We look forward to answering those questions, and clearing up some of the misconceptions about our privacy policies that first appeared in the Washington Post.

So, here’s the real story:
  • You still have choice and control. You don’t need to log in to use many of our services, including Search, Maps and YouTube. If you are logged in, you can still edit or turn off your Search history, switch Gmail chat to “off the record,” control the way Google tailors ads to your interests, use Incognito mode on Chrome, or use any of the other privacy tools we offer.
  • We’re not collecting more data about you. Our new policy simply makes it clear that we use data to refine and improve your experience on Google — whichever products or services you use. This is something we have already been doing for a long time.
  • We’re making things simpler and we’re trying to be upfront about it. Period.
  • You can use as much or as little of Google as you want. For example, you can have a Google Account and choose to use Gmail, but not use Google+. Or you could keep your data separate with different accounts -- for example, one for YouTube and another for Gmail.
For more detail, please read the new privacy policy and terms, and visit this site to learn more.

Don’t censor the web

You might notice many of your favorite websites look different today. Wikipedia is down. WordPress is dark. We’re censoring our homepage logo and asking you to petition Congress. So what’s the big deal?

Right now in Washington D.C., Congress is considering two bills that would censor the web and impose burdensome regulations on American businesses. They’re known as the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House. Here’s what they’d do:
  • PIPA & SOPA will censor the web. These bills would grant new powers to law enforcement to filter the Internet and block access to tools to get around those filters. We know from experience that these powers are on the wish list of oppressive regimes throughout the world. SOPA and PIPA also eliminate due process. They provide incentives for American companies to shut down, block access to and stop servicing U.S. and foreign websites that copyright and trademark owners allege are illegal without any due process or ability of a wrongfully targeted website to seek restitution.
  • PIPA & SOPA will risk our industry’s track record of innovation and job creation. These bills would make it easier to sue law-abiding U.S. companies. Law-abiding payment processors and Internet advertising services can be subject to these private rights of action. SOPA and PIPA would also create harmful (and uncertain) technology mandates on U.S. Internet companies, as federal judges second-guess technological measures used by these companies to stop bad actors, and potentially impose inconsistent injunctions on them.
  • PIPA & SOPA will not stop piracy. These bills wouldn’t get rid of pirate sites. Pirate sites would just change their addresses in order to continue their criminal activities. There are better ways to address piracy than to ask U.S. companies to censor the Internet. The foreign rogue sites are in it for the money, and we believe the best way to shut them down is to cut off their sources of funding. As a result, Google supports alternative approaches like the OPEN Act.
Fighting online piracy is extremely important. We are investing a lot of time and money in that fight. Last year alone we acted on copyright takedown notices for more than 5 million webpages and invested more than $60 million in the fight against ads appearing on bad sites. And we think there is more that can be done here—like targeted and focused steps to cut off the money supply to foreign pirate sites. If you cut off the money flow, you cut the incentive to steal.

Because we think there’s a good way forward that doesn’t cause collateral damage to the web, we’re joining Wikipedia, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Mozilla and other Internet companies in speaking out against SOPA and PIPA. And we’re asking you to sign a petition and join the millions who have already reached out to Congress through phone calls, letters and petitions asking them to rethink SOPA and PIPA.

Tech tips that are Good to Know

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

Does this person sound familiar? He can’t be bothered to type a password into his phone every time he wants to play a game of Angry Birds. When he does need a password, maybe for his email or bank website, he chooses one that’s easy to remember like his sister’s name—and he uses the same one for each website he visits. For him, cookies come from the bakery, IP addresses are the locations of Intellectual Property and a correct Google search result is basically magic.

Most of us know someone like this. Technology can be confusing, and the industry often fails to explain clearly enough why digital literacy matters. So today in the U.S. we’re kicking off Good to Know, our biggest-ever consumer education campaign focused on making the web a safer, more comfortable place. Our ad campaign, which we introduced in the U.K. and Germany last fall, offers privacy and security tips: Use 2-step verification! Remember to lock your computer when you step away! Make sure your connection to a website is secure! It also explains some of the building blocks of the web like cookies and IP addresses. Keep an eye out for the ads in newspapers and magazines, online and in New York and Washington, D.C. subway stations.

The campaign and Good to Know website build on our commitment to keeping people safe online. We’ve created resources like privacy videos, the Google Security Center, the Family Safety Center and Teach Parents Tech to help you develop strong privacy and security habits. We design for privacy, building tools like Google Dashboard, Me on the Web, the Ads Preferences Manager and Google+ Circles—with more on the way.

We encourage you to take a few minutes to check out the Good to Know site, watch some of the videos, and be on the lookout for ads in your favorite newspaper or website. We hope you’ll learn something new about how to protect yourself online—tips that are always good to know!

Update Jan 17: Updated to include more background about Good to Know.

Crowdsourcing to Protect: NCMEC’s Newly Redesigned CyberTipline

We are strong believers in the importance of abuse reporting tools that identify harmful and illegal content online. That’s why we are proud to say we recently helped The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) launch a newly redesigned CyberTipline — the national reporting mechanism for cases of child sexual exploitation — to better protect all Internet users.

NCMEC receives a staggering amount of information. Since the CyberTipline’s inception over a decade ago, it has handled more than 1.25 million reports of child sexual exploitation. The National Center is at the forefront of efforts to protect society’s most vulnerable individuals by providing tools and resources for reporting abuse and working with law enforcement on child sexual exploitation investigations.

We are proud to have assisted NCMEC in building a more user-friendly and seamless reporting system for both the public and electronic service providers. In the spirit of our continued partnership with NCMEC, we hope that these improvements will help to better facilitate CyberTipline reporting and encourage more Internet users to join the fight against child sexual exploitation.

More details about the new CyberTipline are available on the NCMEC website here.