Understanding Google's new privacy policy: your YouTube activity will now be linked to your searches

When Google changed its privacy policy last week, they made a strong effort to ensure that everyone knew that a change had occurred, but if you tried to figure out what had actually changed, you had to wade through a lot of buzzwords and legalese. Now the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Rainey Reitman explains it in simple language:

Here’s what you need to know about the substantive changes in the new policy:

1. Up until March 1, 2012, the data Google collected on you when you used YouTube was carefully cabined away from your other Google products. So, in effect, Google could use data they collected on YouTube to improve and customize the users’ YouTube experience, but couldn’t use the data to customize and improve user experience on, say, Google+.

2. The same siloing took place for your search history. Previously, Google search data was kept separate from other products. Even when users were logged in, Google promised not to share the information they gathered about you from your Google search history when customizing their other products. Considering how uniquely sensitive user search history can be (indicating vital facts about your location, interests, age, sexual orientation, religion, health concerns, and much more), this was an important privacy protection.

The new privacy policy removes the separation between YouTube, Google search, and other Google products. By describing the change as "treat[ing] you as a single user," Google intends to remove the privacy-protective separations from YouTube and Google search.

I used to have Firefox plugin that turned off my Google cookie unless I was visiting a service where I wanted to be logged in -- that is, I could automatically log in to Gmail and Google Docs, but I wasn't logged in for searches, YouTube, and BlogSpot. It disappeared a few versions back. Does anyone know of a contemporary equivalent? Post it in the comments.

What Actually Changed in Google’s Privacy Policy


  1. I feel like I’m the only person who just doesn’t care. I assume, rightfully, that any information you post to any place on the Internet is 100% public for everyone to see, including Google, and your next door neighbor. I just never type anything into the Internets that I want to be private.

    1.  I really don’t care either.  I always just figured they did this anyway.

      Further I think this post is disenginious because it ignores the fact that there used to be dozens and dozens of privacy policies.  Instead it focuses only on the negative.

      Completely off topic, but supposedly Facebook was looking to start an astroturfing campaign  against google, using various blogs the were to be paid in secret.


      1.  That might explain anti-google bias in the whole nym wars they had earlier.

        OTOH, it would be really interesting to see a screening plug-in like Cory mentioned.

      2. Agreed – Google search results are getting worse and worse, and I don’t think extra data will help.  Although to be fair to Google I can appreciate them not wanting to keep n-separate privacy policies and have to make sure they always keep it segregated; that must be a nightmare for them to manage.
        And FFS let me turn off auto-correct!

      1.  If you are doing something wrong, be smart enough not to get caught. Use serious encryption or don’t even use the Internet to discuss your wrongdoings.

    2. I only care because I want what I see on google search to be the same as what you see. Otherwise it’s not as useful. Sure, sometimes I want to see local restaurants or something, but I’d like to be able to choose.

      1. I care because Google has been doing their damnedest to ruin my ability to search with their “searching for this thing you didn’t type” instead.  My searches and my Youtube uses are disjoint enough that this can only further degrade my searches.

        1. I’ve always wanted to know what people like you are searching for that the autocorrect feature isn’t useful. For me, and I consider myself a fairly average user, it’s almost always more useful than not.

          1. It’s the same for me.  So, in answer to your question (to taintofevil): many of us look up anything and everything.  That’s what reference materials are there for.  We make good use of them.

    3. I just never type anything into the Internets that I want to be private.

      You’re almost certainly mistaken.  Consider your entire browsing history, and all the information it contains in all those searches, comments, purchases.
      Then imagine all of that information provided in a convenient, data-mineable interface to someone who wants to make trouble for you.  Do you think they could make any trouble?  I bet they could.
      The data needed to cause you trouble is already out there.  Even the interface is already there at Google.  The only thing missing is someone with a motivation to make trouble.
      I think that’s what it comes down to for most people.  It’s not that they have nothing to hide, it’s that they don’t really believe Google would make trouble for them.  Hopefully they’re right, but personally I’d rather not depend on hope.

      1. You left out the contents of your Gmail correspondence.  I wonder if Scott Rubin would be okay with all of his email communication being laid open to the public.

        I don’t believe that Google will make trouble.  I do believe that people who do want to make trouble will eventually hack their way in and steal millions of sets of user data.  Search history.  Browsing history. Email activity.  And then the whole game changes.

        1.  I am always very aware that my e-mail is hosted on Google. Even when I send an email to just one person I do not consider it private unless properly encrypted.

          1.  You seem naive. Or I am behind the times.

            What good is encryption if they log your keystrokes? Your message is read as it is created. It is only encrypted after you finish the message, and by that time the keylogger has sent a copy of the clear text to whomever.

      2.  I’ll send you my browser history if you want. There’s some good YouTube videos in there you should check out.

    4. Well, thanks for respecting that other people do care.

      Hope you’re never bothered by anything that you can’t solve alone.

      1. mdhatter, I’ve been where you are. I’ve been seduced by the dark depths of troll-dom. But I’m on a path to recovery, and you can be, too. Let the waves of righteous anger at someone’s differing opinion wash over you. Become a leaf on the stream of wrongness on the internets. Let it all go… You too can find peace in being right — *and no one else having to know about it*.

    5. I agree. I see this as much less of a big deal than some of the stuff that Facebook comes up with. The data was there to use *anyway*, and as long as you’re logged in, your searches can be traced back to you. I still think that Google is more trustworthy than some others I can think of, especially since one thing in their privacy policy hasn’t changed: They still say they’re not sharing your data with third parties, and in the end, that’s what matters the most.

  2. feel like i must be missing something here, but am i wrong in thinking i’m ok if i just don’t sign in to use google search or youtube? considering the bulk of my internetting is done at work or on a laptop i don’t tend to leave myself signed in after using Gmail/Docs/Calendar anyway…

    1.  If you don’t mind using Google’s default search preferences, or inputting your preferences every browser session, this is fine. For those of use who are used to Google retaining our search preferences on a cookie, whether or not we had or were logged in with a Google ID, it’s a bitter pill.

      1. the bitterness comes from you agreeing to it, then resenting what you’ve agreed to. It’s between you and you. Leave google out of it, they’re offering something you CAN refuse, but don’t. 

        1. “the bitterness comes from you agreeing to it, then resenting what you’ve agreed to.”  And you base this conclusion on what?

          Don’t presume to lecture me when you obviously don’t know enough about me to do so. For the record, I quit using Google when they decided to make having and using a Google ID a prerequisite for retaining search preference settings. It’s a bitter pill because Google is far and away the best search engine I have ever used, but I refuse to cave to their social engineering demands to use their service. I now have to use lesser utilities that are content with the revenue from advertising and anonymous metrics, and not insisting that I give them my real name and address to attach to the data they are selling.

          1. again, you’re saying you HAVE to use them.


            complaining about free ice cream is complaining about free ice cream

          2. @mdhatter03: Um, NO. I never said that I have to use anything. I said the I would prefer to use Google but no longer do, due to their privacy policies. If you actually READ the comments you’re responding to here, you might learn something. Now please, either read and understand what I have said or f*ck off. I really don’t like having words put in my mouth by ignorant trolls (especially ones who are blatantly trolling both sides of the argument).

            EDIT: I do see that I said I have to use lesser services, is that what you’re talking about? If so, you’re really sniffing your own gas. Have you ever tried to use the internet with NO search engine?

        2.  That is not true. In a different post you compare google searching to free ice cream.

          Google searching is not like a free food stuff. Internet search is more of a utility these days like electricity, water, and gas. If you want to live in and participate in the modern world, you don’t have a choice in using the internet.

          What would you say if the electric company, the gas company, and the water company told you they needed to know your daily schedule or they would cut you off?

    2.  This is what I do. I sign out and log in again. I went and checked what info they had on me and the answer was “none”.

        1.  It’s true, unless they are monitoring me when I’m not logged in, in which case their privacy policy is irrelevant.

    3. Unfortunately, Google has changed the defaults on anonymous searches. You only get 10 results per page and your search is subject to their moderate SafeSearch filtering. You have to both be logged-in to a Google account AND accept 3rd-party cookies in order for your preferred SafeSearch setting to work.

      1. again, using the internet mostly from work, where I’m subject to stupid netnanny stuff even on things that Google don’t mind including in Safesearch, so that’s not a problem. neither am i particularly bothered over only having 10 search results for the sake of my own privacy. is all of this over the fact that some people want to be able to search for porn and not have to click to see the next 10 results without Google knowing what they’re up to? ;)

  3. So we have a problem (at least one) with Google’s policies, but we must continue to use one or more of its “products”.  But why? Why behave as though there’s no alternative to Google. Why let Google do things to you that you don’t approve of?

    Here’s the funny thing: the very thing on which Google centers its whole business–search–is so replaceable. Use another search; you won’t miss Google. They need you *way* more than you need them. I use DuckDuckGo, and have not looked back. http://duckduckgo.com

      1. You wouldn’t think so. Read some of the responses on this page, for start. Listen to how people talk and write about Google. That “to Google” is a recognized verb suggests just how thoroughly that brand has penetrated consciousness at large. I think many people feel that they could not use the web without Google.

        1. Switching from Google to something else is damn near impossible, especially with Gmail and YouTube being part of their stable of products.

      2. When you say “most people” you infer inclusion of those who still use Internet Explorer.  They’re not even beginning to be aware that they are unaware of the issue.

        it’s also a lazy sentence, appealing to anonymous authority. Google:”weasel words”.

        1.  I’m sorry, I take it back. An unknown but possibly large percentage of people think that you are forced to use Google products at gunpoint.

          1. I don’t argue that it’s good, or that they’re right; merely that they are thoroughly brand-locked.

          2. And others  think that the quality of the product makes it worth having your user data monitored for targeted ads, or don’t even see that as a disadvantage.

    1. I have been using Duck Duck Go for a few days now actually and I like it. Unfortunately, I have not found a free alternative to Gmail — as far as I can tell, nothing compares to it. And changing e-mail addresses is, for most people, a really problematic undertaking. So at least in some respects, people are stuck.

        1. I used Hushmail for a few years until I discovered that they will compromise your security if asked by a U.S. federal agency. Also, because they only offer 25MB of space, they simply do not compare to Gmail.

          1.  You must be kidding? Hushmail, whose entire sales pitch is about security, will turn over your communications to the government?

            I didn’t see that on the front page of their site.

      1. Get your own domain and change to that address.  After that, you can change your email provider at will and not worry about updating your contacts.  Check out places like hover.com for cheap domains with email forwarding.

        I recall someone on BB talking about their setup (Cory maybe) and the gist was don’t use free services if you’re concerned.  Pay for service from a company you can trust.

    2.  If those people are serious about getting users, and they must be because I see recommendations for them in most conversations these days, they need to get rid of that stupid, foolish, ignorant, childish, retarded “DuckDuckGo” name.

      I don’t care if they have alien search technology from mars that gives you what you want before you key it in. I will never use a service that calls itself “DuckDuckGo”.

      That is like those people walking around with plastic pieces of cheese on their head to show their loyalty to looking foolish in public.

  4. Use browser A for authenticated Google use.  Use browser B for searching and general clicking with “erase cookies on quit” enabled.  Plus, disable “supercookies” by getting rid of flash and its ilk.

  5. Partial solution: don’t use gmail. I have a “fake” google account I use for my Android tablet just to be able to use the Android Market. 

    Gmail is an even worse info gathering/tracking device than Facebook is.

  6. This seems incredibly moronic, if I understand it properly.  Why would anyone want their search-engine results to be in any degree conditioned by some bullshit identikit of what you’re supposedly interested in, cobbled together by an algorithm combing mechanically through whatever junk you were watching for the lolz on youtube (while probably baked?)   It seems like putting a kind of predictive text on your cultural horizons.  You go on the internet, surely, to expand your personal horizons, not to shrink the internet itself down into some subjective bubble of “your personal interests”, as decided by an algorithm that doesn’t really “get” why you watched Rick Perry – Strong a hundred times yesterday.

    1.  You seem to be under the impression that this is being done for the users. It makes a lot of sense when you realize it’s not being done FOR you but TO you.

    2.  It’s like spam, it doesn’t really cost anything and it makes money, even if it doesn’t work that much better than serving random ads.

    3.  It’s not moronic. It is about control. People cannot think about things they are not aware of.

      It is like refusing to show dead bodies coming back from Iraq. You cannot effectively protest the casualties in Iraq if you can’t show them to others.

      By making certain you only see what you want to see, you never learn about things that might bother you enough to protest about or disagree with.

      You notice how disruptive news stories just disappear these days? The cops murdered some guy in Fullerton awhile back. The story started getting big, getting international coverage, then it disappeared. A cop elbowed some disabled crazy person on a bus a week or two ago. The story disappeared the next day.

      The internet is great because there is so much information from everywhere on it. But if you are prevented from finding it by a search engine that only shows you what it thinks you want to see, you will never find any of that intriguing, mind expanding information.

  7. one browser for facebook, one for google, one for youtube… I hope I don’t run out of different browsers soon :)

    1.  Browser-schmowzer; you’re going to have to use different computers, and quite probably different internet connections soon to completely avoid efforts at conflation of disparate info sources. They’re already able to pinpoint a specific computer (IP is only part of it; most dynamic IPs don’t change that often, and once you’ve got a “user footprint”, it can usually be identified after a dynamic IP address change, anyway.)

      Deleting your cookies on exit, etc., is only a stop-gap measure, and temporary at best. The data about what you look at and where you go isn’t only stored on your own machine, of course, and you won’t have control of it off your computer, so it’s all a moot point.

      The only real solution to this is very STRICT data privacy laws, backed up by effective monitoring and very brutal fines for violations.

  8. Incognito mode (browse in private)
    This article applies to Google Chrome on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chrome OS.For times when you want to browse in stealth mode, Google Chrome offers the incognito browsing mode. Here’s how the incognito mode works:Webpages that you open and files downloaded while you are incognito aren’t recorded in your browsing and download histories.
    All new cookies are deleted after you close all incognito windows that you’ve opened.
    Changes made to your Google Chrome bookmarks and general settings while in incognito mode are always saved.Tip: If you’re using Chrome OS, you can use the guest browsing feature as an alternative to incognito mode. When browsing as a guest, you can browse the web and download files as normal. Once you exit your guest session, all of your browsing information from the session is completely erased.Open an incognito windowClick the wrench icon  on the browser toolbar.
    Select New incognito window.A new window will open with the  icon in the corner. You can continue browsing as normal  

  9. Inspired by Cory’s own Paranoid Linux, wouldn’t it be possible to create a plugin that constantly runs random searches in the background of a browser session, drowning out your actual identity traces with sudden fascinations for dinosaur anatomy, 1920s Philippino religious tracts, the German city of Weiße Elster and King Kamehameha III of Hawaii?

  10. I consider the internet to be a pretty public place.  But I don’t know that I like Google deciding things for ME, deciding who I am based on what I search for.  
     Mostly I use the internet to learn   I search for lots of reasons…. something I read or heard or saw but don’t know much about often triggers a search. .  But only **I** know which of those searches turn out to be important to me.

  11. I’m waiting until Google starts folding Google Analytics data into their profiles. It’s installed on tens of millions of websites. Add in all the Google hosted versions of jquery and other js libraries and Google will be able to track the vast majority of what you do online.

  12. While I certainly wouldn’t say that “I don’t care”, I must admit I don’t quite get why there’s such a freak-out about this. Unless I’m completely misunderstanding, it’s not like Google didn’t already know or store your search results, the only difference now is that those searches are known across Google’s products. I.e. if you were searching for Viagra on Google.com you might see recommendations for Viagra commercials on YouTube, right? Is that really cause for such alarm, or am I missing something?

    Of course it’d be preferable for it to not be shared, but I don’t quite understand what about it that has people so worried.

  13. I used to think this was a bad idea.  Now, everything being linked means that there is a consistency across my net use.  For one, all the ads are the same everywhere I go.  This is a good thing.  Because now, I can ignore the same ad everywhere I visit, instead of having to ignore different ones.  It’s much better now.  Seriously, I’d much rather ignore the same annoying ad than having to ignore and re-ignore a dozen different annoying ads that might actually catch my attention.

    1. I use Addblock + beta for chrome it’s updated all the time and i never see any adds. How anyone can handle all the irrelevant clutter that adds make i will never understand. 

  14. Great, so now I’m searching the GoogleNet, as the GoogleNet searches me.

    duckduckgo.com everyone. It’s the closest thing to google c. 2005 that I have located.

    1. Per @Aloisius:disqus above, you’ve still gotta worry about Analytics. Of course, you could just install NoScript on Firefox and forget about that, along with Ghostery and TrackMeNot. (That list is starting to get a bit too long for my tastes.)

  15. You know, even Google’s own browser gives you the choice to open an anonymous tab, if you’re searching for something you don’t want anybody (including Google) to connect with you. I still don’t think it’s a big deal.

  16. I stopped logging in to Youtube when they made it inconvenient for me to have one login for mail and one for youtube. 

    Not being logged in to youtube means I have to look at their shit-ugly and sigh-inducing landing page of random popular videos, but beyond that few problems. 

    I’ve never logged in for search and don’t use their FB-clone.  FF w/ NoScript, and some other doodads.

    I am not a fan of this ‘we will combine every scrap of information and everything we can algorithmically infer about you into a giant portfolio of sales leads and dossiers’ behavior but it seems inevitable.

  17. “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.” –  Armand Jean du Plessis Duc de Richelieu

    The same could be said of six searches, no doubt.

  18. Can we start with changes to sites like BoingBoing. Looking at this page created cookies in Firefox for google.com, youtube.com, and twitter.com. All of which I consider third party cookies, but apparently they’re not.

  19. there’s an anonymizing search proxy for google called starting page . . . works pretty well: https://startingpage.com/eng/

  20. so as a site that is trying to connect me to  googleapis, google, google-analytics, typekit, fmpub, chartbeat, twitter, admob, quantserve, disqus, and scorecardresearch – you’re worried that people visiting google may have their search history abused?  this amuses me…

    1. Perhaps there should be an article on how boingboing tracks you. When I got ghostery, I was shocked by how much boingboing tracks, being that, ironically enough, I heard about ghostery from boingboing.

      1.  Ghostery says 10 trackers on this page. I’ve only blocked Facebook Connect so far but Ghostery makes it easy to block/unblock the others. Also I use Chrome for Googly stuff ( Gmail, Docs, G+ etc.) and for  general browsing I use Firefox with all the lovely addons.

    2. I tried everything, and finally gave up and now use Chrome solely for BoingBoing.  I could protect myself from Disqus just fine in Firefox, but it meant I couldn’t post.

      Why aren’t more people horrified when they get the warning message “you must enable ALL cookies universally in order to use this site”?

  21. I recommend two Firefox extensions:

    1) Ghostery [works great as an ad-blocker], and
    2) GoogleSharing, a proxying extension that anonymizes your google traffic— including YouTube, Search, Maps, Docs… I highly recommend it.

  22. Anybody got a good alternative to Google Reader?  I just want to have a hundred or so feeds in a pot and have them served to me in a single stream.  Seems to me Reader is the only thing that does this well (or did, before the UI change).

    1. I would try NetVibes.  While you can have multiple tabs in a reader or widget configuration, you can also easily have it mix it all up in a reader feed and present it en masse.

        1.  My pleasure.  I’m glad it works for you.  So far, I’ve enjoyed mine.  I’ll see how palatable it is on my mobile browser next.

  23. I have opted out of everything I can find to opt out of in the usage of my various Google apps, I’ve switched to NetVibes instead of Reader, and I’m trying new search sites.  Still, I’m bothered by two things.  The first is that Google rather disingenuously claims it’s doing this so it can better help me, but it doesn’t give me the choice on whether I want the help (i.e., to completely opt out.)  Secondly, I am infuriated by the fact that since I have an Android phone, they’re now going to be associating my number and all call history with my Gmail account and activity.  (There’s no way to opt out of having your Android information taken that I am aware of as of yet.)  This is an invasion of privacy that was not a part of the specified terms of service I agreed to for either service.  Yes, they had and have the option to rewrite them – and I am free to think they’re a bunch of jackasses for doing so.

  24. I have a YT account mostly so that I can check links from comments.  However, I have been known to Like videos.  A few weeks back, I went through and de-Liked every video that I had ever Liked and removed every possible bit of identifying or personal info from my profile.  I haz a suspicious.

  25. I’m sure many on here will hate me for this… I am very much annoyed by governments trying to track what their people are doing online and love the concept of online privacy… BUT… Watching a company change policy to try to show more ads that would appeal to me I honestly don’t care about? They’re not tracking anything more than they have been for years, it’s just adding it all to a melting pot. I don’t feel anymore violated than I did four years ago. It means to me that the ads that show up may actually be more relevant to my interests?

    For the services they provide for free this doesn’t seem like asking much. If there was a button that said “Or pay $10 a year to opt out of this, and just get random ads on your pages and we won’t track your interests” I most certainly would not go back to random ads. (Remember when you used to see a lot more ads for viagra? They were shooting in the dark on any websites they wanted. With relevant results I actually see ads that don’t bother me anymore)

    The other thing is that no one at google is actually looking at this and analyzing what I personally like. It’s an algorithm done over a network, and it’s not specifically tied to me other than the ads I see. They don’t pay fleets of employees to physically watch what you’re doing because that would be a pointless waste of money.

    It’s no MORE monitoring than was done before. And my tastes for what I watch on youtube are mostly similar to what I read about on web-pages. So I can’t imagine it changing the results that much.

  26. good thing advertisers don’t really have any power to shape the media we’re exposed to manipulate us with detailed information about our private lives and extensive research regarding how this can be used to influence us.  Everyone knows history proves we’re immune to advertising — it just doesn’t affect us.

  27. One possibility would be to encode ABE rules in NoScript or similar tools to only allow youtube.com to access objects from youtube. gmail.com to access objects from gmail and so on. But that would probably break quickly. Google could just put some essential code on googleapis.com or some other common site and also put the cross-site tracking code there as well.

  28. We really need better identity management in web browsers. Plugins like Ghostery are just a start. I should be able to be logged in to two accounts on a particular web site simultaneously, for example, when I want to book two coordinated frequent flier flights, one for each of us.

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