Summary:

Google announced a new privacy policy and new terms of service that eliminate some 60-odd disparate policies across its myriad services. But fewer separate policies also means less privacy for some as Google finally delivers on its vision of a unified platform.

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Google today announced a new privacy policy and new terms of service that will take effect on March 1 and eliminate some 60-odd disparate policies across its myriad services. The new policies — admittedly inspired by federal demands for less-confusing documents — seemingly covers the entirety of Google save for Chrome, Wallet and Books. But fewer separate policies also means less privacy for some as Google finally delivers on its vision of a unified platform.

As Google privacy director Alma Whitten explained on the Official Google Blog Tuesday afternoon, the biggest change in the new policies affects Google accountholders. Writes Whitten:

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.

It certainly makes for a more personal experience — and really just confirms the direction Google has been heading in for a while  — but it’s not necessarily a more-welcome experience. Personalizing someone’s search experience is potentially great, but potentially problematic if another user on the same device sees results they were never supposed to see.

That said, Google is making the right decision in announcing the changes up front and so publicly highlighting what the changes will be. Federal regulators have been calling for — even threatening to impose rules regarding to — privacy policies written in plain English, so proactive adherence by web services might lessen the FTC’s appetite for imposing its own rules. Dropbox got ahead of the curve by doing something similar last spring.

Google and Facebook, of course, are in a slightly different situation than are most other web companies. Both companies have settled with the FTC around charges of privacy violations, and among the settlement terms for both is that they can no longer misrepresent their privacy claims. So expect to this trend of privacy transparency — even as the sites continue to overhaul their platforms — to continue for at least the next 20 years.

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