Of course, not everyone who relies on Google for Web search, email or YouTube is concerned about the pending change. Some don't care a whit; others don't know the change is looming (says PC Mag).
But for those who are concerned, the idea that Feb. 29 is their last chance to change these settings seems to have lit the fire of urgency. So, here are some tips on making commonly recommended changes — and ways to find out more about online privacy.
If you're logged in to your Google account — or even if you're not — go to your Search History page. The button you want is labeled "Remove all Web History" — BUT, before you click it, notice the calendar to the right. Somewhere over there should be the total count of searches Google has stored for you — it can easily run into the thousands.
That number is worth looking at for two reasons: a) it's a reminder that all you do on the Web is noticed; and b) it's fun to compare search numbers with your friends later!
After you click the "Remove" button, you should get confirmation that "Your Web history will also be paused." That's when you click "OK."
There are two main areas to consider in YouTube: History, and Search History. You can see them on your YouTube History page, if you're logged in to Google.
From that page, click on "History," on the left-hand side of the screen.
Then click "Clear all viewing history" — you should get a confirmation popup, which makes "Cancel" look very attractive. Ignore that, and hit "Clear all viewing history" instead.
That's when things get a bit tricky. A green bar should appear, giving you confirmation that your history has been cleared. That's nice — but you'll likely want to "X out" of that little dialog, via the right-hand corner. That way you can go ahead and click "Pause viewing history" as well.
If you let the green bar fade out on its own, you'll probably need to toggle among the tabs on the left-hand side of the screen — and then return to History — to see an option for "Pause viewing history."
Repeat the process for Search History.
Those are the two main steps you can take today that would be tough, or impossible, after March 1. But they're pretty incremental. As critics of Google's new policy have said, even with these measures, Google will still compile information about you — it'll just "partially anonymize" the data after 18 months, and desist from giving you customized results for your searches.
So, here are some more tips:
1 -Split your services. Most companies that offer a Web service also track how you use it, with the goal of making it easier for you to use — and to make money from targeted advertising. If that makes you uncomfortable, divide your tasks among several services. For instance, you can use Google's email, Microsoft's search, and Vimeo's video-sharing service.
2 -Log out. It's much more difficult for your online life to be lumped into patterns — and feed marketing ploys based on consumer habits — if you log out of your Google account, or your account on Facebook or any other service, for that matter.
Let's say you have a Gmail account you want to stick with. You might avoid logging in via a web browser, and instead use an email client like Outlook or Apple Mail — or Thunderbird, which comes from Mozilla, the folks behind Firefox. For video, there's always Vimeo.
Other options include creating multiple Google accounts (and keeping them separate, logging out, etc.), or avoiding Google altogether. For instance, you can consider using mail services like Zoho or GMX Mail, or the old standbys Yahoo or Windows Live Hotmail.
To take your privacy protection "to the the next level," you might consider using free ISP address "randomizer" services like Tor, Privoxy, or (for a fee) Anonymizer. Another option is to use JAP (Java Anon Proxy), which combines many web-users under one umbrella to hide their individual actions. Using either approach, it becomes far more difficult for websites to track users' activities.
For other tips, you can visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has advice for removing your Google history and YouTube history — as well as more advanced (and timeless) tips for protecting your privacy while using Web-based search.
Other groups, like the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) also track and report on a wide range of privacy and security issues.
If you're concerned about online advertising in particular, the Network Advertising Initiative has a tool that lets you — in one step — "opt out of behavioral advertising" — at least when it comes to the group's dozens of members (which include Google).
Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.