Google defends change to privacy policies

WASHINGTON Tue Jan 31, 2012 1:47pm EST

A Google homepage is displayed on a Motorola Droid phone in Washington August 15, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

A Google homepage is displayed on a Motorola Droid phone in Washington August 15, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Planned changes to Google Inc's privacy policies that have caught the attention of U.S. lawmakers would not take away the control its customers have over how data is collected and used, the company said in a blog post on Tuesday

Google, whose offerings include its flagship search engine, Gmail, YouTube and Google+ products, announced last week that it was unifying 60 of its privacy policies.

When the new policy comes into effect on Wednesday, information from most Google products will be treated as a single trove of data, which the company could use for targeted advertising.

By consolidating numerous product-specific privacy policies into one comprehensive policy, "we're explaining our privacy commitments to users of those products in 85 percent fewer words," said Pablo Chavez, Google's director of public policy, on the company's public policy blog.

A bipartisan group of eight U.S. lawmakers questioned whether the new policy would allow Internet users to opt-out of data-sharing systems and expressed concern about the safety of customer data, in a letter sent to Google last Thursday.

In a letter dated Monday, Chavez responded directly to the lawmakers' concerns, stressing that, "the updated privacy policy does not allow us to collect any new or additional types of information about users."

The company defended its decision to consolidate the policies, saying it would create a better experience for users, and added that most of its product-specific policies already allowed information to be shared across product lines when users are signed onto their Google accounts.

But the previous varied policies did not allow Google to, for example, recommend cooking videos when a signed on user went to YouTube after searching for recipes on the search engine, the letter said.

"We want to change that so we can create a simpler, more intuitive Google experience - to share more of each user's information with that user as they use various Google services," Chavez said in the letter.

The letter also said the company's products can still be used without signing into a Google account. Google's privacy tools remain in place under the consolidated policy, allowing users to edit information stored in their account, change personalized ad preferences and control how their data is collected and used.

Google's response was sent to Republican Representatives Cliff Stearns, Joe Barton and Marsha Blackburn, and to Democratic Representatives Edward Markey, Henry Waxman, Dianne DeGette, G.K. Butterfield and Jackie Speier - the eight legislators who expressed concern that consolidation would make it more difficult for consumers to protect their privacy.

Following a messy rollout of Google's now defunct social network, Buzz, Google and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement in March last year that requires consent if Google collects information under one privacy policy, but then changes that policy.

In a separate letter sent to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz last Friday, Markey and Barton asked for a probe into whether the changes to how Google handles consumer data violated the agreement it made with the FTC.

U.S. regulators are already looking into whether the company manipulates its search results to favor its own products, among other issues.

(Reporting By Jasmin Melvin; editing by Andre Grenon)

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Comments (7)
Robertla wrote:
So, …….Google sent me an email, advising me that changes were coming.

I don’t use Gmail, Google+, or the Chrome browser…..I don’t have any accounts with them.

Where did they get my email address…….?

That’s kind of bold…….isn’t it? I do use Google search, and get email spam relating to my searches

Jan 31, 2012 2:28pm EST  --  Report as abuse
@Robertla

Could be you once had an account somewhere which was bought by google? E.g. youtube, blogger.com

Jan 31, 2012 3:32pm EST  --  Report as abuse
PetAdorn wrote:
When a company grew to a certain size after it has collected large client data base, it it hard to distinguish whether our privacy has been breached…somewhat worrisome.

Jan 31, 2012 3:38pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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