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Let me Google that for you: Change to privacy policy offers occasion to review your relation to online provider

You will have read that the ubiquitous Google will be making dramatic changes to its privacy policy today. These changes will affect most all of the suite of Google products, from search (the Google just about everybody knows) to e-mail (GMail) to drafting (Google Docs) and etc. Essentially, Google is going to be collecting your data across a wide variety of its platforms; and, you can't opt out. Here's Google's explanations; and, here's some good plain language coverage. With numbers of attorneys moving to, or starting out in, GMail plus Google Apps, for productivity and practice management functionality, the revisions to the privacy policy become a potential point of concern for lawyers, especially given the fact that lawyers utilizing these services for firm business will likely maintain confidential information across Google's various tools. Furthermore, Massachusetts, per its data protection law, requires businesses, including law firms, maintaining certain sets of confidential client information to vet and contract with online service providers, like Google, which have access to that information. The regulations also require lawyers and law firms maintaining implicated information sets to review their document management policies (memorialized in a Written Information Security Program, or "WISP"), at least annually.

Given the obvious concerns within ethics rules and state laws respecting the protection of confidential client information, attorneys should have a solid handle on terms of service (including privacy policies) applied to the platforms they use to store information; and, moments like these: when terms of service are updated/revised substantially, offer an excellent opportunity to determine what your relationship with your data retention provider currently is. Once you know what you're dealing with, you may even be able to do something about it. In this case, PC World offers a useful guide focused on what you can do to protect yourself (to the extent it's possible) from Google's latest privacy incursions Of course, there are ways to be proactive in gathering knowledge of what your service providers are doing with respect to privacy: You can schedule a regular review of your settings. (Most of the popular/free social media web services play fast and loose with advertising defaults, for example; but, you can change certain of these settings for your accounts.) You can stay updated on changes, as they come up, through popular technology websites, like the aforementioned PC World, Mashable and Social Media Today, among others. Since everyone has to have a blog these days, you can also track your provider's movement through their corporate blogs.

Tip courtesy of Jared Correia, Law Office Management Assistance Program.

Published March 1, 2012

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