Googles New Terms of Service Raise Privacy Concerns

Google has more rights to the personal content users share than most people may have realized.

In its recently updated terms of service, the company acknowledges that it not only scans email, but retains the right to use personal content for marketing and internal development purposes.

If that's not enough to make you jittery, consider this: There could be even less privacy down the line. Google has significant mobile ambitions, including its modular smartphone dubbed Project Ara. Google previewed the phone, now in the earliest stages of development, at a developer event in Santa Clara, Calif. this week.

Cell phones pose multiple privacy problems, including lack of anonymity, location tracking and easy interception.

Take It: It's Yours

In the new terms of services, Google basically explains it owns your data

Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received and when it is stored."

Google has also awarded itself the right to any content users upload, submit, store, send or receive.

This is all likely to be disconcerting to at least some users, especially in light of updates last November that spelled out the following:

If you have a Google Account, we may display your Profile name, Profile photo and actions you take on Google or on third-party applications connected to your Google Account (such as plus 1’s, reviews you write and comments you post) in our Services, including displaying in ads and other commercial contexts."

In fairness to Google, it notes that users can adjust their privacy settings to restrict the use of their names and photos in ads — and promises it will respect the wishes of those who choose that option.

It also warns businesses that use Google’s servers that it cannot be held responsible for any problems with those services and further requires businesses to accept the following terms and conditions that "will hold harmless and indemnify Google and its affiliates, officers, agents and employees from any claim, suit or action arising from or related to the use of the Services or violation of these terms, including any liability or expense arising from claims, losses, damages, suits, judgments, litigation costs and attorneys’ fees."

So companies should be cautious: This language suggests Google has the right to scan business content employees, clients, customers or contractors may share.

Data Privacy, Customer Experience

Now that Google has laid out its terms in black and white, the ball is in the users’ court. Are users prepared to give up some of their privacy and rights for the sake of targeted content and services?

This is also part of a larger debate around the way information everywhere is used, whether it originates from tracking devices in stores, security cameras, mobile devices or other sensor-enabled devices.

In a series of articles on the issue last November, CMSWire Editor Noreen Seebacher found that people’s attitude about privacy and the compromises they make around it largely depends on how companies use the data and what customers receive in return.

As customer experiences get more personal, this is a debate that has a long way to go yet before it is resolved.  Forrester,  in a number its reports around customer experience management, has pointed out that many people are prepared to relinquish some privacy for better services.

But it remains unclear whether they are comfortable having their email being scanned and read, if even by machine.

Title image by Joe Seer / Shutterstock.