Attorneys General Concerned By Google's New Privacy Policy

Attorneys general from 36 states told Google CEO Larry Page they are concerned by the company's  plan to start combining information about signed-in users across a variety of products and services, including Gmail, Android, and YouTube.

"Google’s new privacy policy is troubling for a number of reasons," the letter states. "On a fundamental level, the policy appears to invade consumer privacy by automatically sharing personal information consumers input into one Google product with all Google products. 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."

When Google announced the new policy, the company said that signed-in users would have no ability to opt out of the data combination. But the company also said that it won't aggregate data about people who aren't signed in. Likewise people can avoid aggregation by using different browsers for different functions, or avoiding Google altogether.

But that latter option isn't always realistic -- as the law enforcement officials point out. "The clear majority of all Internet users use -- and frequently rely on -- at least one Google product on a regular basis," the officials write. "For users who rely on Google products for their business ... avoiding this information sharing may mean moving their entire business over to different platforms, reprinting any business cards or letterhead that contained Gmail addresses, re-training employees on web-based sharing and calendar services, and more."

The attorneys general add that Android users may have to purchase new phones to avoid the policy change. "No doubt many of these consumers bought an Android-powered phone in reliance on Google’s existing privacy policy, which touted to these consumers that 'We will not reduce your rights under this Privacy Policy without your explicit consent.'”

The law enforcement officials have asked Page to respond by Feb. 29 -- one day before Google implements the new policy.

Separately, the privacy group Center for Digital Democracy says in a new complaint filed Wednesday with the Federal Trade Commission that Google misrepresented its privacy policy by failing to adequately inform users about how "data collection, profiling and targeting practices impact -- and potentially harm -- their privacy."

When Google announced its new policy, the company said that the revisions would simplify matters for consumers and also allow Google to personalize ads and services.

The CDD says that Google "should have informed users that its need to collect more information on them and their social networks is due to business reasons related to its digital marketing business, and not to make its consumer privacy policy 'shorter and easier to read.'"

The group is calling for an FTC investigation and says that Google should delay the March 1 rollout.

For its part, Google said in a statement that its new policy "will make our privacy practices easier to understand," and "reflects our desire to create a seamless experience for our signed-in users."

The company added, "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 services. Of course we are happy to discuss this approach with regulators globally."


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