Concerns about personal speech they won't like to connect with official account

Google's move to consolidate more than 60 individual privacy policies on its products into a single one “that is a lot shorter and easier to read” necessitates a fresh look by users at how they use services such as Gmail, YouTube, Maps, Calendar and Google+, as well as Android phones.

The online preview of the new policy, which will go into effect on March 1, notes that Google Chrome and Chrome OS, Books and Wallet continue to have individual policies governing privacy.

The significance of the new privacy policy lies in the way it merges online behaviour information across services, for an account holder. By adding social connections and sharing to the basket, Google has fine-grained understanding of individual choice and usage trends. Google has always collected user information, but now, the silos of live data from different services will be combined to produce powerful analytics that will match people with diverse activity that they pursue on the web when they are signed-in. This will benefit Google by giving it new insight into who is doing what, when and where using its services, and thus deliver highly targeted advertising. The company says this ability helps the user by providing more relevant search results.

The starting point to understand the scope of the change is the Google ‘Dashboard', where it is possible to review and ‘control' some of the information associated with a specific account. These include personal profile, analytics, Android devices (and different Google IDs used on them), Android Market transactions, Blogger, Calendar, Contacts, Docs, Gmail, Google+, Groups, iGoogle, Picasa web albums, Orkut, Reader, Social Connections and YouTube.

It is worth remembering that under the proposed changes, the name that a user provides for an account will be used on all the services associated with it, even replacing past names associated with that account in different services. Internet privacy advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation have demanded that Google make it easier for people to maintain separate identities— such as professional and personal — and not mingle data merely because both IDs belong to the same individual. An example given is that of Google+, which requires a real name, and YouTube, which does not. A forced merger poses problems for those who have concerns about personal speech (such as posting videos) that they would not like to associate with their official account.

Social connections such as a Wordpress blog or Twitter account that can be traced to a Gmail ID are also accessible to Google, and can be viewed on the Dashboard.

Users who do not wish to let Google have access to their search behaviour, or the videos they watch on YouTube can simply switch off their personal search indexing, and continue to search or browse in a “logged off” state. However, in the case of Android phones, that poses difficulties as an account ID is needed for all but basic functions, access to the applications Market in particular.

Some users are bound to use anonymising services such as the Tor browser, to experiment with the new privacy system. The Tor servers enable masking of the actual geographical location of the user and some Internet Service Providers have started filtering access to them, notably in the U.K.

The absence of an opt out provision in the new privacy regime has provoked negative sentiment among many users. Eight U.S. lawmakers have asked to be informed by February 16, in fine detail, the nature of information collected, the methods adopted, and the actual use to which Google puts it. Some reactions on Twitter refer to the possible resurgence of alternative email services.

There is also a move by the European Union to put in place new privacy rules, which would require explicit consent from users, for companies to collect, store and use personal information. Google has protested against the draft EU rules, describing them as likely to break the Internet.

India is a major emerging market for Google, with significant advertising revenue potential. The company estimates that there will be a sharp growth in the number of Internet users in India by 2014, to 300 million, from about 100 million in 2011, with mobile fuelling the expansion.