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Google To Track Users' Digital Footsteps

MOUNTAIN VIEW (CBS / AP) -- Google Inc. is overhauling the way it treats user data, linking information across its array of email, video and social-networking services so that information gathered in one place can be used in another.

For example, if you spent the last hour logged into Google to search the Web for skateboards, the next time you log into YouTube, there's a good chance you'll get recommendations for videos featuring Tony Hawk.

RELATED CONTENT: Google statement on privacy changes

The changes take effect March 1 and remove some of the legal hurdles that Google faced by having more than 70 different privacy policies across various services. Now, there will be one main policy covering services such as Google Plus, Gmail, search, YouTube and Maps, with separate ones covering sensitive services such as Google Wallet.

KCBS Technology Analyst Larry Magid:

Still, the changes could irk privacy critics because of the sheer volume of information collected - including your location, list of contacts and the contents of your email.

Google hopes to improve the user experience across its different services and give advertisers a better way to find customers.

"If you're signed into Google, we can do things like suggest search queries - or tailor your search results - based on the interests you've expressed in Google (Plus), Gmail, and YouTube," the company says on a new overview page for its privacy policy. "We'll better understand which version of Pink or Jaguar you're searching for and get you those results faster."

Ryan Calo, director for privacy at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, said Google is trying to do the best it can to simplify its privacy policy and make it transparent without bogging down people with pages of legalese. The privacy documents now run about 10,000 words, down from 68,000.

But he said the Mountain View-based company still needs to be careful how it uses the data so that it helps users, without revealing sensitive information.

"If it creeps people out, then they need to be aware of that," he said.

KCBS' Technology Analyst Larry Magid said this is another way for Google to try to keep up with sites like Facebook.

"The only way Google can compete with Facebook is to come up with sticky ways to get people to not only use services, but really identify and provide a lot of information," said Magid. "Think about Google search. You go there and then you go off to wherever the search is taking you. You go on Google+, Gmail or You Tube and you stay for awhile. They want to figure out a better way to capitalize on those other services and combine it with what they can do with search."

The changes follow a rare letdown in revenue growth at Google's lucrative advertising network. Google's fourth-quarter earnings report last week showed the company's average revenue per click fell 8 percent from the previous year, despite robust growth in online shopping at the holidays.

Google shares, which have fallen 9 percent since the report, closed Tuesday at $580.93, down $4.59 for the day.

(Copyright 2012 CBS San Francisco. All rights reserved.)

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