Google has a new privacy policy. Should you be worried?

Last week, Google revised its privacy policy with a new one which it claims is simpler, shorter and better than the one it replaces.

Google had warning messages on its pages saying “This stuff is important”. So let’s dive into what Google is actually up to and what changes it has made.

Two major areas of change:

a. Google can share data across platforms

b. Google will collect and store more information about you, including your preferences in terms of videos (YouTube), sites you visit and things you like (Search and Plus+) and also what you think (Blogs), places you visit and search for (Maps).

Basically, Google is documenting your life. google_policy

Is this stuff legal?

Well, no one can say for sure. The CNIL in France has suggested that it does not conform to the high standards set in the European Union for data protection (as per the European Directive on Data Protection)

Some strong critics have called it “obscene” and suggested that if the Government were to collect the amount of information that Google is collecting from us, there would be “uproar”

So now what?

Obviously, the very people who scream themselves hoarse over the changes go home and log into their email accounts, share stuff and get information they need. All on Google. So there is no doubt that people are not going to stop using Google services anytime soon.

Having said that, Google faces the real risk of being asked to modify its privacy policy in certain countries. Concerns over its hold and reach already led countries like China to ban Google (and gave rise to more Peoples’ Republic friendly services like Baidu), but now even the bastion of liberalism, Continental Europe, may oppose Google’s operations.

What about us in India?

Google in India, except for a few noises Kapil Sibal made the other day, seems to be immune from serious threat. Its popularity and spread is unparalleled, and our privacy and data protection laws are quite weak.

What does this mean for businesspeople?

Google claims that its new privacy policy makes using its services, including Apps for business more seamless and efficient. Whether that turns out to be the case in practice will have to be seen.

The furore has also made a lot of people sit up and take notice of Privacy Policies and Terms of Service in general. They are a critical part of a business’ defense mechanism. Every business, especially those businesses which are online, must take care to build themselves a strong Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Getting some tips from Google

Whether Google has gone too far or not, one cannot deny that it’s got style. Its policy is simply written, lucid and understandable even to the common man. And that’s the first tip. Don’t make your privacy policy too complex. It is meant to be read by your users, not by lawyers.

The second tip is that you should keep your privacy policy as short as possible. Naturally, the bigger the business, the longer the privacy policy – but keep it short and sweet as far as possible. Avoid repetition at any cost.

The final tip is that you should segment your privacy policy. Make clear distinctions between the portion where you talk about “User Information” and the section where you talk about “Liability”. That makes the policy and terms easier to read, and more importantly, makes it easier for you to say “I told you so!” in case something goes wrong.

[About the author: Contributed by Hrishikesh Datar, founder of vakilsearch.com, online legal services provider (Legal Advice, Legal Documents & more.]

» More legal resources for startups. Explained: How to Design Terms of Service for Your Website?

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