How Google’s New Privacy Policy Will Affect You While You Use AOL

Yesterday on my other blog I asked readers an odd question: “How will Google’s new all-in-one privacy policy affect people who use AOL’s search engine, since it’s “enhanced by Google”?” It’s a question no one’s asked – nor answered before. Without waiting for a response, I fired off two emails: one to AOL’s Privacy Team, the other to Google’s*. My email to AOL is as follows:

To whom it may concern,

I run an informational blog about AOL and am politely requesting an official response to the question, “How does Google’s new privacy policy affect users of AOL’s Google-enhanced search?” Are AOL users (especially those signed into AOL when they perform searches) subjected to Google’s new one-for-all privacy policy, which went into effect on March 1, 2012 and is described by Google here: http://www.google.com/intl/en/policies/privacy/?

If so, in what ways exactly are AOL users affected by Google’s policy changes?

Specifically, if an AOL user signs into AOL, for example, with the handle aoluser@aol.com while also signed into Google as, for example, googleuser@gmail.com, then conducts searches on AOL’s search engine, does Google collect information on aoluser@aol.com’s searches and tie them to googleuser@gmail.com’s account?

Any and all information you can impart on this important topic is appreciated. Thanks in advance for your time in this matter.

Sincerely,
Ms. M. Marie

And this is how AOL responded (with added emphasis my own):

Dear Ms. Marie,

Thank you for your inquiry about how AOL Search enhanced by Google may be impacted by Google’s privacy policy update. Currently, users who visit AOL owned and operated properties or use AOL products (such as AIM, Winamp, AOL Editions, etc.) are not affected by Google’s recent privacy changes, as AOL does not share individual user data with Google. Searches performed through AOL Search are transmitted to Google through an AOL-managed proxy. During this process, unique identifiers (including personally-identifiable information, cookie IDs, AOL usernames, email addresses, full IP addresses, etc.) are removed by the proxy before being submitted to the Google search API. AOL users that choose to consume Google products (e.g. Gmail, Google Toolbar, Google Maps, etc.) while connected to the Internet via the AOL software will be affected by Google’s privacy changes – just as they would be with any other Internet Service Provider.

We are committed to continuing to work closely with Google to ensure we are providing transparency to users of AOL Search. As AOL continues to innovate and develop new products and features, including functionalities from other service providers, we are committed to providing appropriate information and options to our users. Please visit http://privacy.aol.com for the most up to date information and options for the treatment of your AOL information.

Should you have further questions regarding AOL’s collection and use of information, please feel free to contact us at this email address [privacy@aol.com].

Regards,
AOL Privacy Team

In plain English, I think what AOL means is: it doesn’t matter if you’re signed into AOL or Google (or both) when you use AOL search, because all data transmitted by AOL to Google 1) goes through AOL’s proxy servers first, which strips out most of your IP address (and stripping out your IP address, folks, is good, because Google also collects info on you based solely on the IP address you search and use Google on, without even signing in!) and 2) your data is so anonymized by the time it gets from AOL’s proxy servers back to Google’s machines that no one at Google could reliably tie it to your AOL or Google account, anyway.

So now you know that using AOL Search (“enhanced by Google!”) is nearly as good at protecting you from Google’s new privacy policy – which is seen by vast swaths of the Internet as highly intrusive and not privacy-enhancing at all – as searching Google without signing in using any proxy you’ll find on Proxy.org (which is like, a whole list of proxies, dudes…seriously, check them out).

*Google has not yet responded to my request for clarification.