World and Nation

A new policy on privacy from Google, amid continuing social push

SAN FRANCISCO — Google said Tuesday that it would revise its privacy policies and terms of service to change the way it can use information that its customers provide.

The changes, which take effect March 1, are part of a continuing mission by Larry Page, Google’s chief executive, to unify Google’s services and compete with other tech giants like Facebook and Apple to become a one-stop destination for Internet users. The changes immediately drew criticism from privacy advocates.

Although the announcement comes two weeks after Google was hammered for the way it integrated Google Plus posts into search results, Google said that it had been working on the new policies for a long time and that the timing was coincidental. Still, the biggest change in the new policies goes to the heart of concerns about Google’s new search feature. Critics said the new feature violated users’ privacy when people posted on Google Plus because they did not know that the posts would show up in search results.

The new policy makes clear that Google can use information shared on one service in other Google products when people are logged into a Google account online or on an Android phone.

“If you’re signed in, we may combine information you’ve provided from one service with information from other services,” Alma Whitten, Google’s director of privacy for product and engineering, wrote in a company blog. “In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.”

Google has already been doing this. For instance, if a user is logged into Gmail, searches in the same browser can be personalized. The change will let Google do additional useful things, Whitten wrote. Google could let users know if they might be late for meetings based on their calendars and locations, or show ads in Gmail based on YouTube videos they have watched.

It is unclear how broadly Google will interpret its new policy, which concerns some privacy advocates because Google does not give users the ability to opt out.

“If a user of Google services wants to link those services, that should be their choice, but Google should not make that decision for the users,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Google also shortened and rewrote its privacy policies and terms of service in simpler language. Google’s main privacy policy will now cover almost all products in one document.