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March 2012

Is Google Protecting Your Online Privacy?

Millions of Americans recently received e-mails from Google explaining that it is eliminating separate privacy policies across 60 different types of Google services and replacing them with one policy that Google believes is “a lot shorter and easier to read.” Google states that its “goal is to provide you with as much transparency and choice as possible.”

Google’s policy change occurs March 1 and means it will begin to share information across all of Google’s services, including Google Web Search, YouTube, GoogleMobile, etc. How does this work? As an example, I use YouTube to share videos with family and friends and Google is already tracking the topic areas I appear to be interested in based on my YouTube use. Google, with its new level of tracking integration, will consolidate all the information it has gained from tracking my various online activities and then direct me to advertising for products and services it thinks I may want. Google argues this will give me better and more accurate search results.

Google states it will not share users’ personal identification without permission except in very limited circumstances, such as when responding to a court order.

Eight members of Congress recently sent a letter to Google asking 11 privacy-oriented questions about the new policy, including whether consumers could opt out of the new system for all Google services. Also, the European Union is questioning Google about how its privacy changes will impact consumers.

To recap, if you use Google services after March 1, you are deemed to have agreed to the privacy changes explained above. If the idea of Google tracking you across the web and then marketing messages to you based on your use doesn’t appeal to you, you can close your account by going to www.google.com/policies/faq/ and follow the instructions that are listed under “What if I don’t want to use Google under the new Privacy Policy and Terms of Service?”

Thrivent Bank to Become a Credit Union

You will recall from earlier Consumer Checkpoint columns that large and mostly foreign banks successfully sought a new Wisconsin law that creates an expedited state process for converting a nonprofit credit union to a bank, a process lacking many basic consumer protections. This legislative effort followed the considerable adverse publicity received by large national banks for their loose, if not reckless, lending practices and their need for a taxpayer bailout. I believe the conversion law was created to eliminate competition from member-oriented, nonprofit credit unions. So far, no Wisconsin credit union has attempted to convert, and we are pleased to report Thrivent Financial for Lutherans just announced it is converting its bank to a credit union because it believes a non-profit cooperative credit union will better serve its members.

Score one for credit unions and consumers! 



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