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We all know that Google recently updated its terms, conditions and privacy policies. The company argued that the change would ensure that all Google services would be consolidated under one, simple to understand, universal set of conditions, rather than expecting users to navigate a multitude of separate policies for each of their services.
Few analysts have been convinced, with many citing that Google is more concerned with turning a profit than protecting user privacy; either way, Google has gone ahead with its changes and, as Memeburn columnist Rowan Puttergill recently wrote, “if Google feels that its applications will function better by being able to share data between themselves, then that’s really up to Google. After all, Google can argue that it is ultimately providing a platform”.
With this said it seems necessary to move away from arguments surrounding privacy — Google isn’t going to change for the time being – and instead consider what has actually changed, and where this leaves users.
1. It is simple
There is no doubt that the new policy is simple. Gone is the convoluted legal jargon and pages of conditions; instead, the new Google policy, compressed into a mere three pages (the old one was nine) is clear, concise, and most importantly, doesn’t require years of legal training to understand.
But simplicity seems somewhat suspicious, especially when dealing with a company that appears to benefit from collecting user data. After examining both the old and the new policies it becomes evident that it’s not only the multiple-syllabled bureaucratic gobbledygook that’s disappeared; a number of important policies have also vanished.
Users need to check what policies have been removed as their abandonment could have implications on how you are expected to use and maintain Google’s services.
2. Lost in translation
One such example relates directly to non-English speaking users. The old policy stipulated that if you chose to read and agree to any of Google’s policies in any language other than English, only the English version would be valid in any dispute that arose.
In the new policy however, this clause is entirely ignored and it appears to leave non-English speakers in a somewhat precarious position of uncertainty. Can they trust the translations provided, or should they read the English version just to be sure? What if there’s a mistake in the translation? And should they be punished for Google’s omission of policy?
Some could argue that by excluding this clause users are protected, and it’s Google that will have to bear the brunt if problems arise, but it’s unlikely that user ignorance will become a justifiable defence. Subsequently, it seems that Google’s new policy has (in)advertently made English the unwritten language of choice, and it is up to the user to ensure that their language preference is represented correctly.
3. Watch the fine print
But it’s possible that this clause has just moved to another service. Yes, the new policies are simple and easy to understand but, as with all contracts you should be wary of the fine print, or in this case, the extra print.
The new terms of service explicitly note that there may be other conditions linked to other Google services which take precedence over the primary clauses. So while Google has cited that their new policy aims to unite services, you are still subject to other terms which may not appear in their front-of-house conditions.
It becomes apparent that many of the terms which have ‘disappeared’ in the re-structuring are, in reality, hiding in the backroom of Google’s plethora of services, and it is up to the user to “find” them. In essence, it appears that the new policies are just a shiny new paint job to cover what has always existed in their more defined older terms of service.
4. But which law governs Google and its users?
While I don’t profess to be a legal expert by any means, the most glaring issue which appears to arise though, has to do with the laws chosen to govern Google policy.
In the old policy, it was stated that all terms would be governed by English law, whereas the new policy stipulates that users are subject to California law. The only plus side of this change, is that if you are situated in a country in which California law doesn’t abide, the local law will take precedence. But this, and all contradictions that arise from this aside, the real issue is that Google appears to have developed policy under one legal system, and are now enforcing it through another.
Even when following the same legal approach (which California and English law do), the laws themselves are remarkably different. It becomes difficult to justify such a shift, and one wonders if users’ rights are actually protected legally by these new policies, but it is something to be considered further by legal experts.
5. So where does this leave me?
There’s no point in suggesting that you stop using Google; it has, (un)fortunately, become part of the online users’ daily routine. So instead, the advice is simple.
Continue doing what you’ve always done, read the policy with each new service, and be mindful that Google will always aim to protect its interests in order to create the most innovative and competitive platforms.