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Google goes viral with privacy message on YouTube

Google posts new videos on YouTube explaining its privacy settings in products as part of a privacy offensive.

Google is using its YouTube video site as a forum for explaining its privacy practices to the millions of consumers who use its products every day.

The company launched a Privacy Channel on YouTube about two months ago.

The videos aren't professionally produced; they are made by Google engineers, product managers, and Google public relations representatives using a handheld video camera, according to Victoria Grand, a manager of public affairs.

Googlers were wondering "how do we communicate with users about privacy and what is the best medium?" she says. "YouTube is a scalable platform that will let us get our messages out there."

The videos do a good job of explaining technical subjects, with the on-camera Googlers speaking plainly and using whiteboards for illustrating concepts. Rather than using actors or slick-looking "suits," the talent is Googlers casually sitting in their offices, on beanbags, in hallways, and otherwise looking as if it's just another day at the office.

Some of the new videos posted this week show how to control privacy settings in specific Google products, including Blogger, Calendar, Docs, and Picasa, as well as how to chat "off the record" using Google Talk and how to make it so your phone number doesn't show up Google's search engine.

It's hard to judge how successful the videos are, or will be. Grand says the first privacy video had about 50,000 page views in the first three weeks--no competition for the hand-holding otters--but still not bad.

Feedback from viewers in the comments area is mixed. Some people praise the company for trying to explain some of the more arcane privacy topics to consumers and asking for translations of the videos into Spanish and Portuguese, and others cynically note that the government can override some of the privacy measures when it wants to get access to data.

To any who would accuse Google of creating videos to disseminate propaganda, Grand responds that the chief purpose is to inform consumers, which is part of the company's mission of being transparent about its privacy policies.

After watching the videos, people "will be more empowered to use the privacy settings in our products," she says.

This video campaign is a smart move on Google's part, especially given all the scrutiny Internet search and advertising companies are under with regard to consumer privacy.

But there's still likely to be debate among privacy advocates about the content of the videos and even complaints that Google's privacy practices need to be improved for consumers instead of merely explained.

In this Google video on YouTube, Google Search Evangelist Adam Lasnik talks about how people can protect their privacy when using Google's Web History feature. Google