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Feb. 25, 2012 at 3:40pm Privacy & Google

We take privacy pretty seriously in the library world.  We believe in your right to freely access information, online and in print.  And we're not going to share your list of checked out books, DVDs, and CDs.  Don't believe me?  Take a little time to read the Freedom to Read Statement or the Policy on Confidentiality of Library Records on our Policies page.  See?  We're watching out for you.

I'm sure that lately you've seen the little pop-up whenever you've used Google, reminding you that their privacy policy will soon be changing.  You can read up on it, but it's not the easiest document to understand.  This policy will be implemented on March 1st, but it will affect searching you've done online prior to that.  To test this, I signed in to my Google account and was shocked to see that Google had saved searches I had performed many, many years ago.  It was kind of a neat trip down memory lane - remember that obsession with Final Fantasy 8?  Google does.  It was also pretty creepy - I mean I didn't even have a Google account then.  Do I really want people to know what sort of research I was doing for fun or for school all these years?  And do I want to be judged by those searches?  Think a little of some of the random searches you've done online over the past month (not to mention years) and try to imagine how those could be interpreted by someone who doesn't know you.

So how is this unified policy different than the ones that Google had in place before?  Well, your search history used to be separate from Google's growing product list.  Now their many services will get to peek at your web history.  Seems like this isn't too bad, right?  I mean, that will hopefully mean that Google will be able to better target the results you want, the services you might need, and even target the advertising towards your searches.  But keep in mind that this could also reveal sensitive information about you, including information about your location, age, sexual orientation, religion, or health concerns.  Information gathered and stored by Google can also be turned over to government agencies and courts - this isn't new, but the unified policy does mean that your searches can be saved indefinitely.

There are many issues to weigh here.  I think we tend to take our online privacy for granted - we post our daily doings on Facebook and Twitter and connect to our locations.  People can tell when we're out of the house, running errands, or planning trips.  This isn't to sound paranoid.  We just need to be aware of the information we're putting out about ourselves.  And I also have to say I love using Google Docs, Analytics, and a variety of other products.  I don't want to drop the search engine, but I want to have some control over my online privacy.

If you're feeling like you'd like to learn more about protecting your privacy in regards to the new Google policy, check out Electronic Frontier Foundation's guide to removing your Google search history - before March 1st!  You might also want to read their older, but still relevant, article with six tips to protect your search privacy.

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