Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Google overhauls privacy policies, erroneously e-mails Sky and Virgin Media punters

Google have announced an overhaul of their privacy policies which merges the policies across their suite of web services from March 1, but are red faced that the expected controversy that the move has generated has been added to by their mistakenly communicating the change in an e-mail to end customers of both Sky and Virgin Media, whose mailboxes are hosted on the Google Apps platform that is run by the search giant.

More than 60 different policies across services such as search, Gmail, YouTube and Google+ are being combined in the move - which Google said will enable better search results and targeted advertising, although they're very aware of the privacy implications given previous controversies in this space amongst web giants.

Explaining the change the company said:
"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+, Gmail and YouTube."
The updated policies are also being emphasised to users when they sign into their Google accounts, but they do not apply to the end customers of Google Apps at Virgin Media and Sky - where the ISPs own privacy policies apply instead.

Naturally there has been much confusion from customers of the 2 massive providers, which they have both made efforts to clarify.

A page on the Sky website has been published to clear up any confusion for their customers, in which they say:
"We'd like to apologise for any confusion this email may have caused. It was sent in error and should be ignored.

Google's technology supports the Sky email service, and hence supports your @sky.com address. However, as a @sky.com email subscriber, your only relationship is with Sky. Sky's Terms and Conditions and Privacy Notice apply and not Google's.

To reiterate, please ignore the earlier email you were mistakenly sent. To be clear, Google's privacy changes do not apply to your @sky.com email account.

Please be assured that we are taking this matter very seriously and are working with Google to understand how this error occurred."
A Virgin spokesperson also backed up a statement from Sky that all that Google know about their customers is an e-mail address which has been provisioned to the Google Apps platform:
"All Google literally has is an email address that they provision to us."
Virgin's forums were also busy with some confused customers.

Google explained the mistake in a statement:
"If an enterprise organisation uses Google Apps to provide email to its own employees or customers, Google is contacting only the administrator at that organisation because it has a contract that defines how we handle and store their data.

Due to a glitch in our system, we misclassified some Google Apps email accounts as consumer Gmail accounts and mistakenly sent these users email notifications about the Privacy Policy. While Google provides the backend service that powers these users’ email accounts, we do not have any direct relationship with these users and contacted them in error."
Google apologised for any confusion caused by the communication.

Update @1738: Google have posted an update about the changes to add more information after an enquiry from Congress.