Well here we are. The day Google begins to hold more firmly than ever to our personal information.
The very basic, bottom line piece of information in all this is that what Google is now doing is consolidating all of its online properties so they can share information and data -- including your preferences and your friends' activities -- across sites.
More info: What's up with Google's big search switch??
You can pretty well equate it to how Apple operates: Their stuff is built so that an iPad can sync up with iCloud, which plays with your Macbook and can also share to an iPod.
Of course, many users will be happy to take advantage of these changes and the convenience they'll bring -- but not without some questions. So let's tackle the five most pressing. We promise it'll be painless.
Can I opt out?
There -- that was simple. If you have an account on any Google-operated site (and there are a surprising number of them) then welcome to your new reality. No room for negotiation.
Well what if I don't want to play along?
Then log out. Google can only gather data relevant to your searches if it knows who you are, right? So don't tell them. Conduct all your Googling (that sounds funny) without logging in. Easy. BUT! while that will work, it can be incredibly inconvenient.
Say you have a GMail account. You check your email, then go do whatever else online. Fifteen minutes later, you need to do a Google search. But you're still logged in to GMail. You'd then have to go back, log out, then return to your search. Same goes for if you're in a Google Document, logged-in to YouTube, or have Google Maps open. You'd have to constantly be logging in and out to skirt the new policy.
You can also clear out your Google search history which will scrub everything you've done to that point, or surf the Web using Google Chrome's 'incognito' function.
What's the big benefit?
Better, more accurate search results which will include anything relevant shared by your friends with Google+ accounts. Also, because the various Google products will now be "talking" to each other, if you search for "chirping smoke detector," then the next time you're on YouTube you may be offered-up videos on how to change your smoke detector battery.
Plenty of other possibilities exist, too, including sync between Maps and Calendar, for instance, to let you know if you're going to be late to something judging by your current location. And there's another benefit, especially if you're Google: More precisely-targeted ads.
So is my Android smartphone now being watched?
Yeah, pretty much. Android is a Google platform and because you need to log into Google to do almost anything on an Android device, your activities will be incorporated into your user profile. Not too much wiggle room on this one unless you want to buy an iPhone. One man has already filed suit over this and is seeking a refund from Google for the Android phone he no longer wants.
Should I freak out? Please help guide my emotions.
Can we level with you? This probably won't have any major, negative impact on your previously peaceful Internet existence.
Google is not collecting any more information than previously, they're just using it differently. Specifically, to build more complete user profiles to personalize your experience and, of course, to ship off to advertisers. But is it really going to bug you if you see an ad for a product you may actually use? Eh. Not us.
Privacy advocates and people just generally creeped out by all this point to the relative lack of U.S. laws about who can collect our information and to whom it can be sold. Nobody wants a prospective employer being able to purchase data that shows you've been conducting an awful lot of searches for narcotics and "lenient extradition policies."
It's up to you to determine your level of comfort with the fact that data may actually be used in that kind of extreme circumstance. And if you want more examples of how this stuff may be used, well, you can probably Google it.