Google Policy Changes Flout Consumer Privacy, Say AGs

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2012-02-23

Google Policy Changes Flout Consumer Privacy, Say AGs

Roughly three dozen state attorneys general have written a letter to Google expressing concern over the search engine company's plans to distill 60 product privacy policies under one blanket policy.

The National Association of Attorneys General is concerned with Google's desire to have applications such as Search, Gmail and YouTube share user data with each other. Google wants to affix identities to its users to offer more personalized search and other Web services. This will also improve the company's ad targeting capabilities.

These policy changes will go into effect March 1 despite complaints from Congress, privacy advocates and now the AGs who claim that the changes violate consumer privacy.

"Consumers have diverse interests and concerns, and may want the  information in their Web History  to be kept separate from the information they exchange via Gmail," the AGs wrote in a letter addressed to Google CEO Larry Page Feb. 22

"Likewise, consumers  may be comfortable with Google knowing their Search queries but not with it  knowing their whereabouts, yet the new privacy policy appears to give them no choice in the matter, further invading  their privacy."

Google doesn't see it that way.

"Our updated privacy policy will make our privacy practices easier to understand, and it reflects our desire to create a seamless experience for our signed-in users," a Google spokesperson told eWEEK. "We've undertaken the most extensive notification effort in Google's history, and we're continuing to offer choice and control over how people use our services."

The changes are non-negotiable for users who wish to continue using most Google services while signed into their Google accounts. However, users may still access Google Search, Maps and YouTube without signing into a Google account.

Google said users who don't want to abide by Google's new policy changes may exit the services, a choice AGs claimed is not really an option at a time when most users use Google as their primary point for Web services.

Googles Product Privacy Changes Are Unwelcome

"It rings hollow to call their ability to exit the Google products ecosystem a "choice" in an Internet economy where the clear majority of all Internet users use €“ and frequently rely on €“ at least one Google product on a regular basis," the AGs wrote.

The AGs also lamented the policy change impact on business users, specifically those 4 million-plus companies that use Google Apps for cloud collaboration apps, noting that the proposed information-sharing may lead them to shuttle their entire business over to different  platforms.

This could have a deleterious economic impact on federal, state, and local government agencies that have migrated to Google Apps and may need to spend taxpayers' money to switch to platforms such as Microsoft Office.

The AGs, which want a sit-down with Page, gave Google until Feb. 29 to reply. Consumer privacy wonks at the Consumer Watchdog today praised the AGs' letter and call to meet with Page.

"We're pleased the state attorneys general have weighed in on this important issue," said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Policy director. "Google has spun the new polices as 'improving user experience.' In fact it's about amassing even greater digital dossiers about you.  You're not Google's customer, you're Google's product."

The issue has been a contentious one since Google announced its planned changes Jan. 24. U.S. Senators who met with Google Deputy General Counsel Mike Yang and Public Policy Director Pablo Chavez Feb. 2 to discuss the planned policy changes did not like what they heard.

Europe's Article 29 Working Party said it would like Google to "pause" policy changes so the group can comprehend the possible consequences of the policy changes for citizens in the 29 European countries.

The policy changes aren't the only privacy issue Google has encountered this year. The company caught flak for circumventing Apple's Safari protections to place cookies on users' iOS devices and Mac computers.


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