Critics Strike At Google's New 'All-It-Can-Eat' Privacy Policy

Google's new, streamlined privacy policy, which went into effect on Monday, will effectively "diminish privacy protections for users of Google services," a coalition of advocates argues in a letter to CEO Eric Schmidt.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center and other critics assert in the letter, dated Friday, that Google's new policy is problematic because the company can now treat users' data "as part of an integrated platform."

They argue that in the past, people could "selectively reveal information to Google for the use of a particular service, such as email, document management, or mapping." The new policy, they say, gives Google the right to transfer data from one service to another without seeking people's consent. The advocates are asking Schmidt to withdraw the new policy. Signatories include representatives from the American Library Association, Consumer Federation of America, Center for Digital Democracy and the World Privacy Forum.

A Google spokesperson says the new document is meant to be "more transparent and understandable."

"Retiring certain product-specific privacy policies and having these products be governed by the main privacy policy more accurately reflects what is actually already happening in our products. For example, people who use both Gmail and Talk expect to see the same contacts in both products," the spokesperson says. "Users can still use whichever Google products they want, and they can control information for services associated with their Google account through the Google Dashboard."

But Marc Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC, says the shift violates a fundamental principle of privacy -- that information should only be used to further the specific purpose for which it was collected. "Simplification in this context is actually not good for Internet users, because it's a flattening of Google's privacy policy," he says.

The new policy reads: "When you sign up for a Google Account, we ask you for personal information. We may combine the information you submit under your account with information from other Google services or third parties in order to provide you with a better experience and to improve the quality of our services."

Rotenberg says the old product-specific privacy policies didn't give Google such broad rights. For instance, the former Gmail policy said that the company might use information in emails for reasons related to the service -- such as blocking spam or backing up messages.

He adds that this issue came up earlier this year when Google launched Buzz, which transformed users' Gmail contacts into social networking contacts. At launch, the feature initially revealed information about the names of users' email contacts, if users activated Buzz without changing the defaults. This set-up meant that a host of confidential information could inadvertently become public, including the names of Gmail users' doctors, lawyers or coworkers.

EPIC alleged in a complaint filed in March with the Federal Trade Commission that Google had violated its privacy policy with Buzz, in part because language in the Gmail privacy policy appeared to limit Google's ability to transfer data between services.

 

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1 comment about "Critics Strike At Google's New 'All-It-Can-Eat' Privacy Policy".
  1. The digital Hobo from TheDigitalHobo.com , October 5, 2010 at 12:37 p.m.

    What ever happened to Google's "We wont mix DoubleClick data with Google data?"

    Can we unwind the doubleclick acquisition?