Lawmakers Question Google's New Privacy Policy

Google's privacy policy is raising eyebrows on Capitol Hill, where a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers are indicating they're not happy with the search giant's decision to create comprehensive profiles of users.

Reps. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and six other House members sent a letter to Google CEO Larry Page complaining about the company's revised policy, slated to go into effect on March 1. Google's new policy allows it to combine information about signed-in users across a variety of products and services, including Gmail, Android, and YouTube.

Google says that it will use the data to create “a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.”

But lawmakers are questioning whether the changes are really for the better. “Google's consolidation of its privacy policies potentially touches billions of people,” they write. “As an Internet giant, Google has a responsibility to protect the privacy of its users. Therefore, we are writing to learn why Google feels that these changes are necessary, and what steps are being taken to ensure the protection of consumers' privacy rights.”



The letter poses some specific questions about whether users can avoid the data collection. Google says that users can't opt out of the new privacy policy, but that information about them won't be consolidated if they're not signed in. Additionally, users can still opt out of receiving behaviorally targeted ads.

The lawmakers are pressing Google for additional information about this system. “Google's announcement raises questions about whether consumers can opt out of the new data sharing system either globally or on a product-by-product basis,” the letter says. “We believe that consumers should have the ability to opt out of data collection when they are not comfortable with a company's terms of service and that the ability to exercise that choice should be simple and straightforward.”

The House members also have specific questions about how the policy affects mobile users. “Is there any ability for users to opt out, other than not purchasing and using an Android phone?” they ask.

The lawmakers requested a response by Feb.16.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who was among the signatories, added that he intends to ask the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Google's proposed revisions to its privacy policy violates the recent settlement over Buzz. “All consumers should have the right to say no to sharing of their personal information, particularly when young people are involved,” he said in a statement. “Google's new privacy policy should enable consumers to opt-out if they don’t want their use of YouTube to morph into YouTrack.”

The Buzz settlement requires Google to obtain people's express consent before sharing their information more broadly than its privacy policy allowed at the time of collection. That settlement grew out of allegations that the search giant violated users' expectations of privacy, as well as its own privacy policy, when it launched Buzz. At launch, the service revealed information about the names of users' email contacts, if users activated Buzz without changing the defaults. Faced with complaints, Google revised the service shortly after it debuted.

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