Google responds to privacy policy concerns

Google is pushing back against complaints about its new privacy policy, saying users can still prevent the company from linking all the data it collects about them by turning off their search history, by skipping some of Google’s offerings or by using different Google accounts at different times.

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 — even though they can’t opt out of the privacy changes altogether.

Continue Reading

“The main change in the updated privacy policy is for users signed into Google Accounts,” Pablo Chavez, director of public policy for Google, said in the letter. “Individuals don’t need to sign in to use many of our services including Search, Maps, and YouTube. If a user is signed in, she can still edit or turn off her search history, switch Gmail chat to off the record, control the way Google tailors ads to her interests using our Ads Preferences Manager, use Incognito mode on Chrome, or use any of the other privacy tools we offer.”

Google says its upcoming move to move to consolidate data it stores on users across its many sites and services doesn’t override consumers’ previous privacy settings. And, Google says, the policy doesn’t mean that the company will be collecting new data about users — or selling personally identifiable information to third parties.

“Some have expressed concern about whether consumers can opt out of our updated privacy policy. We understand the question at the heart of this concern,” wrote Pablo Chavez, director of public policy. “We believe that the relevant issue is whether users have choices about how their data is collected and used.

“Google’s privacy policy — like that of other companies — is a document that applies to all consumers using our products and services,” he continued. “However, we have built meaningful privacy controls into our products, and we are committed to continue offering those choices in the future.”

The company’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 Google’s properties on the Web into one document.

The company intends to combine separate buckets of data — from videos a users watch on YouTube, to search queries they run — to track users across many of the tech titan’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 company’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 Google’s decision not to offer an opt-out choice as it consolidates user data and reshapes its privacy policies.

“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 lawmakers wrote on Jan. 26. “We believe that consumers should have the ability to opt out of data collection when they are not comfortable with the company’s terms of service and that ability to exercise that choice should be simple and straightforward.”

Google sees the matter differently. Touting recent praise by Ann Cavoukian, a top privacy regulator in Canada credited with conceiving the notion of “privacy by design,” Chavez noted that the company had embarked on the “most extensive user notification effort in Google’s history.”

He pointed out that some Google properties already cross-pollinate user data — 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 — like the company’s dashboard to set ad preferences, its off-the-record mode in G-Chat and so-called incognito mode in Chrome — still offer users the ability to execute “choice and control,” Chavez said.

“Information is associated with a given user only if the user is signed in to her Google Account,” Chavez wrote. “This information is provided by the user — 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 user’s previous search queries if the user has search history enabled.

“If a user maintains two separate Google Accounts — for example a work account and a personal account — Google will not use information from one account to personalize the other.”

The search giant is also highlighting its tool to help consumers extract their data and take it elsewhere — 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:

Related Posts