Tips to keep Google from tracking you

Google’s controversial new privacy policy went into effect on March 1, and technology experts quickly offered tips on how to avoid giving up more personal data to the Internet giant.

Under the new policy, Google has begun consolidating the information it collects from users on Gmail, YouTube, Google Docs, search and other Google products into a single profile for each user. Users cannot opt out. The company has said the new policy allows better targeting of advertised products to the user.

The new policy has stirred high emotions around the globe since it was announced a month ago. The European Union has alleged that the policy change violates pre-existing privacy rules in member nations. Google’s policy change is in breach of European law, the EU’s Justice Commissioner told the BBC, according to a March 1 news article. Officials in Japan also have voiced concerns about possible illegality.

In the United States, Google and other tech industry companies recently endorsed a White House Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, which is expected to result in voluntary “Do Not Track” provisions. However, no direct impacts from those efforts are expected until after industry negotiations are completed in several months.

While Google said its new policy does not affect customers who have a signed contract for Google Apps for Government, it does affect government users of free Google products. Thirty-six state attorneys general recently wrote to Google expressing concerns about possible impacts of the policy change on government workers and consumers.

Meanwhile, technology experts are offering tips on how to minimize Google tracking and collection of personal information. However, even with additional steps, some users may be skeptical about their effectiveness because of Google’s track record.

For example, users can set their Web browsers to block all cookies, or to indicate when a cookie is being set. However, Google recently was found to be serving up advertising cookies to users of the Safari and Internet Explorer, using methods that circumvented the browsers’ default privacy settings.

“While there are ways to anonymize your Google usage they’re not universally effective,” according to a March 1 article in Wired News.

Here are some other tips:

  • Users can select a private surfing mode on their Web browser and visit Google’s “Data Liberation Front” for instructions in exporting data out of Google products, the Wired article recommended.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation has instructions for removing your Google search history from your account. However, such deletion does not prevent Google from gathering your information and using it internally.
  • For computer-savvy users, another option might be downloading an encryption application that encrypts your Web traffic, according to the Wired News article. The Tor Project Is one such application.
  • Visit your Google dashboard, which provides a single control panel for managing things like disabling your web history, according to an article in InformationWeek. The article also recommends visiting Google’s Ad Preferences page and installing counter-advertising software. It also advises four other steps.
  • Skip Google altogether and use products such as Hotmail, Yahoo, Bing, Ask.com, Yahoo and DuckDuckGo, recommends the Christian Science Monitor in an article. “This way, you are not giving Google much data to track,” the newspaper said.
  • Consider removing yourself from Google, which a PCWorld article calls “the nuclear option.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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