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Google+ Revises Its Privacy and User Content Policies for the First Time.

Today and yesterday, Google+ revised its Privacy Policy and User Content and Conduct Policy for the first time in this young social network’s history.  The changes demonstrate several of our objections to privacy policies:

  1. they include ambiguous language;
  2. they give Google+ a lot of discretion;
  3. the policies change frequently (the User Content and Conduct Policy has changed twice in two days); and
  4. the users are unaware of the changes (as well as the substance of the original policies).

Our intention is not to sneer at Google.  In fact, we love Google’s services and these problems can be found in many privacy policies across the web.  But we want Google to take note that its current policies are not good for the Internet and, consequently, not good for Google.  As our project develops, we will provide plain English translations of the legalese found in privacy policies.  In the meantime, we encourage Google to apply its innovative strength to this problem to keep its users informed.

While you can see the full changes in the highlighted documents below, here is the essence. The Privacy Policy was mainly revised to address the new Google+ Pages that are now offered to businesses. The User Content and Conduct Policy had little substantive changes.  However, the reorganization of that policy brought to our attention the following language, previously found at the bottom of the document and now moved to the top:

“We may modify these policies so please check back here. Also, when applying our policies, we may make exceptions based on artistic, educational, or documentary considerations, or when there are other substantial benefits to the public from not taking action.”

This language illustrates the main problem with privacy policies and terms of use: they are ambiguous.  What is an “artistic” exception?  “Educational” for what purpose?  What is meant by the term “documentary”?  G+ users cannot possibly give informed consent based on this policy because frankly the policy is not informative.  As a related point, the policy gives Google wide discretion not to enforce its policy if, for example, a user accesses another user’s account without her permission. It leaves G+ users with little predictability, especially as Google “may” and does modify these policies.  This is a problem.


November 7 changes to G+ Privacy Policy:

November 7 changes to G+ User Content and Conduct Policy:

November 8 changes to G+ User Content and Conduct Policy:

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