But it's not true. Everyone watching should have seen this change coming. Google executives have maintained for so long that their new direction is one unified Google product. The new policy doesn't track any new data. It doesn't change the user's settings. Users can still export all their data and leave Google forever. All this does is change perception.
It's Nothing New
On March 1, the rules become much simpler: Google is all one thing. If you use it, it tracks your usage, it stores your data, and it uses your activity to personalize its services for you. Every single way in which it will do so is clearly laid out.
Today, members of Congress sent a letter to Google CEO Larry Page about the policy. They said it raises questions about whether consumers can opt-out of the new data sharing system either globally or on a product-by-product basis." That is crazy talk. You opt out "globally" by not using Google. That's how privacy policies work. It's true that you can't opt out of the privacy policies for individual services anymore. You know what you can do? Stop sharing things you don't want tracked.
"From a legal perspective, I'm not seeing anything that's much different in what's being proposed to take effect on March 1 and what's in place right now," Zick says. "In particular, the language about sharing across services has been in [Google's policies] for a long time."
Zick points out that all the past versions of Google's privacy policies are on the website, and the last two versions offer line-by-line comparisons to the previous version. Zick expects that Google will do the same with the new policy once it's officially issued.
"What we have is not a reaction to a change in legal language," Zick says, "but it's a change in perception. ... People are just reflexively reacting to the idea that Google is big."
Google Is Not Off The Hook Here
There are perfectly good things not to like about Google's new direction. For example, its community management strategy for Google+ is broken. Its names policy is only designed around appearances. As long as your name looks "real" to robots and engineers, you can go nuts. But you still can't use a handle, nor can you use a pseudonym unless it's "established," and you can prove it with some form of identification.
"Identity is prismatic," as Chris Poole so eloquently told us at Web 2.0 last year. Google (and Facebook) want to lock users into a single identity on the Web as far as their services are concerned. There's no question that Google's new direction is to be a bigger part of its users' lives.
You Don't Have To Like It
The idea of what Google is has grown. This month, Google unveiled Search plus Your World, its integration of Google+ social results into Web search. Google+ had already been integrated into YouTube, Gmail and so many other Google services. But search was the Google we used to know. The change upset people, myself included.
Google has been accused of breaking a promise about how it should work. Its founders used to pride themselves on the fact that Google search didn't favor its own services. Google has been scrutinized for years for backpedalling on that stance, but Search+ has been treated as a last straw. For people who don't use Google+, Search plus Your World doesn't work.
google social search - I hate this: mlkshk.com/p/BZOU— David Jacobs (@djacobs) January 26, 2012
No One Is Making You Use Google
You have a choice. You can choose between Google's new direction, an all-in-one, twice-a-day everything-service its executives want you to use like a toothbrush, or Google's competitors. There are plucky start-up search engines out there that might remind you of classic Google. Microsoft also has a social search engine, a free email service and a suite of cloud-based office software. Oh, you don't like them as much? Boo hoo!
What do you think? Has Google gone too far? Will you take your Web activities elsewhere? Share that with us in the comments.