Google Privacy Policy Making Info Less Private?

Google launched a new privacy policy today that pulls 60 of the company’s services under one roof so that information about user activity can now be shared across platforms, from Gmail to YouTube, for example. And the policy states plainly that the company is collecting user data in two ways: by asking you to give it to them and by taking it when you’re online. Well, all righty then.

Regulators around the world had asked Google to hold off on implementing the policy while they took a closer look at it, but the Internet giant said that would confuse people. In a separate blog post, Alma Whitten, Google’s director of privacy, product, and engineering, notes that the company isn’t collecting additional information about users and provides links to change settings if you have concerns.

EU regulators are already raising questions about whether this policy breaks European laws. And here in the U.S., MSNBC raises the specter of Big Brother.  “…[I]t is now better equipped to help out law enforcement officials and the government when it comes to finding out about you,” it writes.

With one privacy breach, one raised voice from a governing body, or one case of over-stepping that goes viral, Google could squander the trust and goodwill it has built with users. Our fellow Mediabistro blog, Semantic Web, raises the possibility of one of these things happening. Would it have been such a bad thing to wait a bit? That BBC story linked above quotes findings that state nearly half of UK users didn’t even know this change was coming. So the confusion that Google claims it was trying to avoid would have been minimal.

Perhaps we shouldn’t really be concerned from a Google+ point of view, since it looks like no one is hanging out there (except maybe The Muppets). A comScore report shows that people are only spending three minutes per month on the site. “Behind the lack of engagement are Google’s difficulties in differentiating Google+ from Facebook,” says the Wall Street Journal (graphic above). Sources in that story, making an attempt to skirt these numbers, saying that Google+ is a long-term project.

The latest  Harris Poll Reputation Quotient found that Google is the number two most reputable company out there, behind only Apple. In its efforts to tackle the privacy issue, the company may have jumped the gun, putting that high ranking in jeopardy. Instead, work to make Google+ more appealing. Three minutes per month is really sad.

[graphic: The Wall Street Journal]