book cover illustration for "We Share Everything"
Book cover illustration by Michael Martchenko

cover illustration for 'We Share Everything'

Today Google’s new privacy policy kicked in. Now Google’s various entities—search, YouTube, maps, Gmail, Google+—are no longer hoarding the information they collect about you—the places you go, the videos you watch, the topics you search for. Now they’re sharing everything with each other.

And that’s creeping a lot of people out, including me.

This is not an entirely rational reaction. After all, I did know that Google was watching my every move, but don't think about it much, except when startled by an advertisement that harkens back to a search I’d made months earlier. (We bought my daughter a camera last summer and it still feels like camera ads follow me everywhere.) There’s a difference, however, between knowing that Google search is watching your moves, and knowing that search is sneaking around behind your back talking to Gmail and Google maps and Google+ all its other friends.

To Google’s credit, it blasted information about its new privacy policy everywhere, putting must-click roadblocks up whenever you signed in to a Google service to make sure you didn’t miss the news. And tech sites and bloggers and half my Facebook friends passed on tips for putting locks on some of Google’s doors. (Of course, we’d all like a few more locks over in Facebook-land, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to get those anytime soon.)

I do appreciate Google bringing all these privacy issues into the limelight. That’s why I think that March 1st should be declared Privacy Day. We should use this day to think about the access we’ve given to our information throughout the year, and whether those recipients still really need such access. We should clean our cookies, delete our histories, and root around in our computers and see who has any other virtual keys to our electronic doors.  But we should do this knowing that, in the long run, we will continue to steadily give up online privacy. And, in fact, that many of us will do so willingly, because applications and services that know more about us are, indeed, able to be more efficient.

So, in honor of Privacy Day, I
• Deleted my account on Google+. I wasn’t using it anyway, and Google doesn’t really need to hang on to the profile information I once provided there.
• Checked my google.com/ads/preferences. That’s how you find out what conclusions Google has drawn from the information it has gathered to date. Google has concluded that I’m a 65+-year-old man (incorrect on both age and gender) who is very interested in consumer electronics gizmos, Broadway shows, and women’s fashion. Hmmm.
• Hit the pause button on Google search history. Until the fuss about the privacy policy, I didn’t know you could do this. The company doesn’t exactly stop recording your searches—it still gathers and stores the information, but pausing your individual history does mean Google won’t use the search information quite as freely and will anonymize it after 18 months.
• Paused YouTube history as well
• Finally, I had been thinking about moving my personal email account over to Gmail, but I decided to keep it where it is, at least for now.

There’s more I could do over on Google, but I’m going to wait and see if all these changes makes it harder to find the information I need—or turn out not to matter.

Caption: The photo above is the cover of  “We Share Everything” by Robert Munsch, one of my favorite books to read to my children when they were little. This charming parable of when “sharing” gets out of hand popped into my head the minute I read about Google’s new privacy policy. I’ll let School Library Journal sum it up for you: “In kindergarten we share. We share everything” gushes a smiling teacher surrounded by birds, flowers, confetti, and lofty ideals. Amanda and Jeremiah are new to this sharing idea and don't much care for it. Jeremiah tries yelling to get a book from Amanda while she tries kicking him to get some blocks; neither attempt works. After each unsuccessful encounter, the teacher coos “we share everything.” When the two children get smattered with paint during another struggle, they are again told to share. They decide to trade clothes, and Jeremiah is quite pleased with Amanda's pink shirt and pants. But when teacher notices, she yells “Who said you could share your clothes?” The whole class enthusiastically responds, “We share EVERYTHING!” as they joyously join in the clothes swap.”

Follow me on Twitter @TeklaPerry.

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