Google Seeks to Reassure House Panel on Privacy Changes
By Mark Long / CIO Today. Updated January 31, 2012.
Google responded Tuesday to a number of concerns raised by members of Congress about the company's plan to fold more than 60 product-specific privacy policies into one, beginning March 1.
The change, said Pablo Chavez, director of public policy at Google, is about treating each user as a single entity across all of the company's Web properties -- from Gmail, Google Maps, Google Apps and Blogger to Chrome, Android, YouTube and Google+.
The aim is to enable the company to deliver a simpler, more understandable and intuitive Google experience, Chavez said.
"By folding more than 60 product-specific privacy policies into our main Google one, we're explaining our privacy commitments to users of those products in 85 percent fewer words," Chavez said in a blog post Tuesday. This is "something that lawmakers and regulators have asked technology companies to do."
The search engine giant has been publicizing the policy change on its Search homepage as well as through e-mails and notifications to users of its numerous online services.
Eight members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, including Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Edward Markey, D-Mass., had questioned whether consumers would be able to opt out of Google's data-sharing system, either globally or on a product-by-product basis.
"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," they wrote in a letter Thursday to Google CEO Larry Page.
Limited to Google Account Holders
"For example, if a user is signed in and searching Google for cooking recipes, our current privacy policies wouldn't let us recommend cooking videos when she visits YouTube based on her searches -- even though she was signed into the same Google account when using both Google Search and YouTube," Chavez wrote.
Giving Users More Choices
Signed-in users will still be able to "edit or turn off search history, switch Gmail chat to 'off the record,' control the way Google tailors ads to [their] interests using our Ads Preferences Manager, use Incognito mode on Chrome, or use any of the other privacy tools we offer," Chavez said.
However, Google avoided directly addressing congressional concerns about the opt-out issue.
"We believe that the relevant issue is whether users have choices about how their data is collected and used," Chavez said in the response letter. "We have built meaningful privacy controls into our products, and we are committed to continue offering those choices in the future."
All user data will continue to remain private and any privacy decisions made by users in the past will remain in effect, Chavez said.
"If a user has already used our privacy tools to opt out of personalized search or ads, for example," he said, "she will remain opted out."