In a letter to lawmakers who have raised questions about the new policy, the company says users will have plenty of ways to control how their personal data is collected and used â€” even though they canâ€™t opt out of the privacy changes altogether.
Google says its upcoming move to move to consolidate data it stores on users across its many sites and services doesnâ€™t override consumersâ€™ previous privacy settings. And, Google says, the policy doesnâ€™t mean that the company will be collecting new data about users â€” or selling personally identifiable information to third parties.
The companyâ€™s privacy makeover, which takes effect March 1, has come under harsh criticism since it was announced last week. The change will combine the more than 60 privacy policies that now govern Googleâ€™s properties on the Web into one document.
The company intends to combine separate buckets of data â€” from videos a users watch on YouTube, to search queries they run â€” to track users across many of the tech titanâ€™s Web properties.
The new approach has proven divisive: While Google says its plan will make its privacy practices easier to digest and improve user experience, privacy hawks see it as a threat to consumers.
Among those concerned are eight House members, who wrote Google last week seeking more information about the companyâ€™s shift. Reps. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Joe Barton (R-Texas), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) took particular interest in Googleâ€™s decision not to offer an opt-out choice as it consolidates user data and reshapes its privacy policies.
â€œGoogleâ€™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,â€ the lawmakers wrote on Jan. 26. â€œWe believe that consumers should have the ability to opt out of data collection when they are not comfortable with the companyâ€™s terms of service and that ability to exercise that choice should be simple and straightforward.â€
Google sees the matter differently. Touting recent praise by Ann Cavoukian, a top privacy regulator in Canada credited with conceiving the notion of â€œprivacy by design,â€ Chavez noted that the company had embarked on the â€œmost extensive user notification effort in Googleâ€™s history.â€
He pointed out that some Google properties already cross-pollinate user data â€” for example, granting users of Gmail the ability to add an item to their calendars when a message looks like an appointment, he said.
Yet for those still concerned, Google noted users can create multiple logins for use on Gmail and YouTube, for example, to keep the data separate.
Other pre-existing tools â€” like the company’s dashboard to set ad preferences, its off-the-record mode in G-Chat and so-called incognito mode in Chrome â€” still offer users the ability to execute “choice and control,â€ Chavez said.
â€œInformation is associated with a given user only if the user is signed in to her Google Account,â€ Chavez wrote. â€œThis information is provided by the user â€” it may include such things as a name, phone number, calendar entries that she adds, emails she sends or receives, Google+ posts she creates, and YouTube videos she uploads. It may also include a record of the userâ€™s previous search queries if the user has search history enabled.
â€œIf a user maintains two separate Google Accounts â€” for example a work account and a personal account â€” Google will not use information from one account to personalize the other.â€
The search giant is also highlighting its tool to help consumers extract their data and take it elsewhere â€” a counterpoint to concerns that the company is taking advantage of its dominance because users heavily depend on its services.
This article first appeared on POLITICO Pro at 5:35 a.m. on January 31, 2012.
Article source: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0112/72197.html