In Plain English: A Review of Google’s Privacy Policy


What does Google know? If you say everything under the sun, well, you are absolutely correct. Far scarier is the fact that Google also knows all about YOU!

But if you are like most people, have you ever spent an hour or two poring over Google’s privacy policy?

In its defense, Google is not hiding anything. In fact, the search engine giant is completely open and honest about what it does with your information.

So don’t you think it is time you learned just what they know?

Translation, Please

Google’s lengthy, transparent privacy policy is a couple of layers deep on the company’s main privacy page. Although they are not hiding anything, the privacy policy was likely drafted by a team of lawyers, and as such, the majority of the policy is not exactly written in a simple style.

That is where this article comes in. Read on to learn, in plain English, just what the nine bullets of Google’s privacy policy mean for you:

• Information you provide – When you sign up for a Google Account, we ask you for personal information. We may combine the information you submit under your account with information from other Google services or third parties in order to provide you with a better experience and to improve the quality of our services. For certain services, we may give you the opportunity to opt out of combining such information. You can use the Google Dashboard to learn more about the information associated with your Account. If you are using Google services in conjunction with your Google Apps Account, Google provides such services in conjunction with or on behalf of your domain administrator. Your administrator will have access to your account information including your email. Consult your domain administrator’s privacy policy for more information.

In plain English? They may sell your information to third-party companies. They may or may not let you know about it.

• Cookies – When you visit Google, we send one or more cookies to your computer or other device. We use cookies to improve the quality of our service, including for storing user preferences, improving search results and ad selection, and tracking user trends, such as how people search. Google also uses cookies in its advertising services to help advertisers and publishers serve and manage ads across the web and on Google services.

In plain English?

  1. Cookies are what enable us to sign on to favorite websites without re-entering our name and password; Google uses the cookies to track you.
  2. You can change your settings (click on the “Google Dashboard”) to refuse all cookies or to indicate when a cookie is being sent, though that may stop certain features from working.
  3. Click on Google’s “Ads Preferences Managers ” to manage, or opt out of, what ads you see.

• Log information – When you access Google services via a browser, application or other client our servers automatically record certain information. These server logs may include information such as your web request, your interaction with a service, Internet Protocol address, browser type, browser language, the date and time of your request and one or more cookies that may uniquely identify your browser or your account.

In plain English? Everything you do, read, and search on Google is automatically saved on servers and tied back to you, thanks once again to those cookies.

• User communications – When you send email or other communications to Google, we may retain those communications in order to process your inquiries, respond to your requests and improve our services. When you send and receive SMS messages to or from one of our services that provides SMS functionality, we may collect and maintain information associated with those messages, such as the phone number, the wireless carrier associated with the phone number, the content of the message, and the date and time of the transaction. We may use your email address to communicate with you about our services.

In plain English? Every single one of your emails and texts may be saved for infinity. To drive this point home, Google clearly states it will save even “the content of the message,” so think twice before you hit send on emails or texts.

• Affiliated Google Services on other sites – We offer some of our services on or through other web sites. Personal information that you provide to those sites may be sent to Google in order to deliver the service. We process such information under this Privacy Policy.

In plain English? Your user information may be shared with outside companies working with Google.

• Third Party Applications – Google may make available third party applications, such as gadgets or extensions, through its services. The information collected by Google when you enable a third party application is processed under this Privacy Policy. Information collected by the third party application provider is governed by their privacy policies.

In plain English? If you use an add-on service from outside of Google to change anything within Google — from using a widget on your Chrome browser to using a download within your gmail account – the third-party company has its own set of privacy policies you might want to know about.

• Location data – Google offers location-enabled services, such as Google Maps and Latitude. If you use those services, Google may receive information about your actual location (such as GPS signals sent by a mobile device) or information that can be used to approximate a location (such as a cell ID).

In plain English? If you use a GPS or other mapping tool, Google knows where you are.

• Unique application number – Certain services, such as Google Toolbar, include a unique application number that is not associated with your account or you. This number and information about your installation (e.g., operating system type, version number) may be sent to Google when you install or uninstall that service or when that service periodically contacts our servers (for example, to request automatic updates to the software).

In plain English? The way you search, and the browser you use, is all saved and tracked back with a unique number assigned just to you.

• Other sites – This Privacy Policy applies to Google services only. We do not exercise control over the sites displayed as search results, sites that include Google applications, products or services, or links from within our various services. These other sites may place their own cookies or other files on your computer, collect data or solicit personal information from you.

In plain English? Google has warned you about what it knows about you, but once you click on other sites, buyer beware. Google is hinting that you can – and should – investigate how other websites track information about you.

Google’s CEO on Privacy

In contrast to the lengthy, lawyer-written privacy policy above, check out what Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt told CNBC:

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

Watch this video, in which Schmidt further adds:

“The reality is that search engines like Google do retain this information for some time.”

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Elaine Rigoli

Elaine Rigoli is PRIVATE WiFi's manager of digital content strategy.