Google To Start Tracking Users Across Services

Martin Brinkmann
Jan 25, 2012
Updated • Jan 28, 2012

An announcement was posted yesterday on the official Google blog that indicates that changes are being made to Google's privacy policies and terms of service. What first looks like a reasonable thing to do is in fact something that will keep privacy advocates up at night. Google will merge their privacy policies, of which about 60 are now available, into one main privacy policy. This on first glance is good from a user perspective, as it improves the privacy policy's accessibility.

Google furthermore has created a main Google Terms of Service file that covers many of their products. This too improves accessibility.

The following paragraphs outlines how Google thinks users will profit from the change

What does this mean in practice? The main change is for users with Google Accounts. Our new Privacy Policy makes clear that, if you’re signed in, we may combine information you've provided from one service with information from other services. In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.

Our recently launched personal search feature is a good example of the cool things Google can do when we combine information across products. Our search box now gives you great answers not just from the web, but your personal stuff too. So if I search for restaurants in Munich, I might see Google+ posts or photos that people have shared with me, or that are in my albums. Today we can also do things like make it easy for you to read a memo from Google Docs right in your Gmail, or add someone from your Gmail contacts to a meeting in Google Calendar.

But there’s so much more that Google can do to help you by sharing more of your information with … well, you. We can make search better—figuring out what you really mean when you type in Apple, Jaguar or Pink. We can provide more relevant ads too. For example, it’s January, but maybe you’re not a gym person, so fitness ads aren’t that useful to you. We can provide reminders that you’re going to be late for a meeting based on your location, your calendar and an understanding of what the traffic is like that day. Or ensure that our spelling suggestions, even for your friends’ names, are accurate because you’ve typed them before. People still have to do way too much heavy lifting, and we want to do a better job of helping them out.

The first thing that you will notice is that Google will share activity information between services come March 1 when the new policies go live. This has an impact on two areas:

  • Personalization: Up until now only a handful services shared information with each other, Google+ data was for instance used for a personalized search experience. Now all data may be used for that experience.
  • Advertisement: The more Google knows about you, the higher paying ads they can get to be displayed to you.

We already know that Google is reading your emails to serve ads on Gmail. Gmail users who are using other Google services may now see tailored ads pop up on other services as well, or YouTube videos recommended to them based on the emails they read.

It could also link things they do on their phone to searches they make on a desktop PC, or display ads for a popular coffee chain on their phone if Google has picked up that you like to drink coffee in the morning and notice that you are currently on the go with your phone.

Google could use location based information it collects from the Android phone to display ads to you on all other Google services that share the new privacy policy. You went to a clothing store for big people? Then you may see "lose weight" videos on YouTube, or ads on Google search.

Like to visit sex clubs? How about ads for related items on your desktop?

As Owen Williams points out over at Neowin, this could also have business and job related consequences. If you have an Android business phone that you use with an enterprise account, then other users with access to that account may see what you have been up to lately.

What you view at home, while accidentally being logged into your Enterprise Google Apps account could mean you have an awkward conversation with your boss.

There is no opting-out

No opt-out is offered by Google. Users who want to keep their account data separated only have two options: Create a separate Google account for each service they use, or cancel their Google account and move on to another service provider.

It is unlikely that many users will actually close their account as a consequence. Depending on which Google services are used, it could mean lots of work. And lets not forget that you'd need to research the new service's privacy policies and terms of service as well.

Mitigation may be possible, if users log out of Google whenever possible. This could reduce the number of personalized ads and recommendations that they will see on Google product pages.

Update: Here is the email that Google is sending to all of its users:

Dear Google user,

We're getting rid of over 60 different privacy policies across Google and replacing them with one that's a lot shorter and easier to read. Our new policy covers multiple products and features, reflecting our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google.

We believe this stuff matters, so please take a few minutes to read our updated Privacy Policy and Terms of Service at These changes will take effect on March 1, 2012.

One policy, one Google experience Easy to work across Google Tailored for you Easy to share and collaborate Easy to work across Google

Our new policy reflects a single product experience that does what you need, when you want it to. Whether you're reading an email that reminds you to schedule a family get-together or finding a favorite video that you want to share, we want to ensure you can move across Gmail, Calendar, Search, YouTube, or whatever your life calls for with ease.

Tailored for you

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+, Gmail, and YouTube. We'll better understand which version of Pink or Jaguar you're searching for and get you those results faster.

Easy to share and collaborate

When you post or create a document online, you often want others to see and contribute. By remembering the contact information of the people you want to share with, we make it easy for you to share in any Google product or service with minimal clicks and errors.
Protecting your privacy hasn't changed

Our goal is to provide you with as much transparency and choice as possible, through products like Google Dashboard and Ads Preferences Manager, alongside other tools. Our privacy principles remain unchanged. And we'll never sell your personal information or share it without your permission (other than rare circumstances like valid legal requests).

Got questions? We've got answers.

Visit our FAQ at to read more about the changes. (We figured our users might have a question or twenty-two.)

Notice of Change

March 1, 2012 is when the new Privacy Policy and Terms will come into effect. If you choose to keep using Google once the change occurs, you will be doing so under the new Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

Please do not reply to this email. Mail sent to this address cannot be answered. Also, never enter your Google Account password after following a link in an email or chat to an untrusted site. Instead, go directly to the site, such as or Google will never email you to ask for your password or other sensitive information.


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  1. JimT said on January 26, 2012 at 4:28 am

    So for me, it looks like I’ll be using Google for searches, Firefox for web browsing, and Hotmail for email. Let’s see them collect all that info in one place!

  2. Robert Palmar said on January 25, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    “Like to visit sex clubs? How about ads for related items on your desktop?”

    That was hilarious, Martin :)

  3. vasa1 said on January 25, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    “Here, I think, is a time when the word “bias” is actually warranted. Everyone wants so badly for Google to do something truly evil (instead of just questionable or inconvenient) that their perceptions of Google actions are actually being affected. Casting events systematically in a non-objective light is the exhibition of bias, and the continual presentation of policies one disagrees with as evidence of “evil” seems to fall under that category.”

  4. DeathTheKid said on January 25, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    Yikes! There was an article on LifeHacker a few weeks ago on the best alternatives to Google services here it is:

    If you have an Android Phone, then you don’t have to use the Android Marketplace. Amazon has their own app store you can get the APK here: They don’t have the sheer number of apps that the Android Marketplace has, but they have most of the top apps and they screen all their apps before publishing them so you don’t have to worry about crap ware. There are a couple of other popular App Stores for Android like GetJar.

    If you want to use an Android Phone, but not Google Services then you can unlink your Google Account to your Android Phone. There are a number of ways to do this.

    I might be writing a piece on how to go Google free on an Android Phone on my blog in the future.

  5. Avinash said on January 25, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Martin, wont these privacy options/plugins be of any use mentioned here ?? Once these changes are made.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 25, 2012 at 7:26 pm

      Avinash, while they allow you to opt-out of some first and third party services, they won’t keep Google from tracking your every move on the Internet more than ever, and to an extent that can only be described as disastrous from a privacy perspective.

  6. McCann said on January 25, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    I, for one, am quite pleased to hear this news. A more intuitive, customizable, and fluid user experience is exactly what I am looking for. If someone is using all of Google’s products anyways, why is your information being shared across all of them really any different than Google still having all of your information and keeping it independent of each other?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 25, 2012 at 7:36 pm

      Because the sum of all tracking gives them an even clear picture of what you like, dislike, want, and do not want. Search until now for instance new only what you have been searching for. Come March 1, it will also now what kind of emails you receive, what you like to watch on YouTube, on which ads you have clicked on third party sites, and whom you are in contact with. It may also know your exact location and what you did there, who else may have been in that location and how long you have been there. This is only the beginning, and it will certainly get a lot worse very soon as Google is completing the move from an impartial search provider to a company that tries to maximize their revenue by all means necessary.

      1. Matt said on January 26, 2012 at 8:52 am

        Well said, Martin. ALL Google’s info on me/you/any user will now be in one tidy package. The thought of any one company having that much data is bothersome to me, not to mention how enticing these gift-wrapped blobs of info will be to governments and hackers.

        And I suspect it’s a much larger and more detailed pile of personal info than many people realize (especially if one is an Android phone/G+/Wallet/Latitude user).

        This announcement is a signal that I should hasten my migration from Google services.

  7. Ryan said on January 25, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    It’s unfortunate, because I’ve been using both YouTube & Blogger before Google even owned them. Both have steadily gone done hill over the years.

    WordPress is at least a viable alternative and I know more and more people who are using Vimeo.

    Of course Google got people hooked and are banking on laziness as most will be unwilling to switch to another service.

  8. Anon said on January 25, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    Actually, you can’t delete any extra service. I tried. You can only leave them empty :(

  9. insanelyapple said on January 25, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    For me, this means that theres trully no more “Don’t be evil”.

  10. Anon said on January 25, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Well, I already abandoned greader since the ugly reskin…I think I will only leave youtube and gmail, the rest I am deleting right now.

  11. Mike said on January 25, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    I’ve logged out of google for the last time … I haven’t deleted the account but it will gather dust and eventually expire. Their services have been superb over a number of years but this sort of unnecessary intrusion into people’s lives does not agree with me. Facebook will be following them to the retirement home very soon…

  12. Finvana said on January 25, 2012 at 11:50 am

    When I purchased my little android tablet I made a new gmail account only for this device. If they start acting like this I will move all my gmail data to other services like GMX.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 25, 2012 at 12:40 pm

      Separating services into different accounts is one of the things that you can do to reduce the impact of this new “feature”.

  13. Yoav said on January 25, 2012 at 11:30 am

    I would really like an option to at least opt out of tracking whenever necessary. In fact, why isn’t it opt in? This move is more than a little creepy.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 25, 2012 at 11:33 am

      I agree, this is something that I do not want. You cannot really do much about it unless you delete your Google account. If you do not, logging out whenever possible will help a bit but not to much. I personally would make sure to stay logged out whenever I use my phone.

  14. boris said on January 25, 2012 at 9:08 am

    No way I am signing for any of their services. I will still use Google search(damn got used to it so much) but I use script to strip tracking tags from results.

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