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Google: Updated Privacy Policy Still Gives Users Control

Google has told concerned legislators that its move to update
its privacy policy still gives users plenty of control over how their data is
used and does not involve collecting or sharing any new data with third

That came in response to a letter from a bipartisan group of
House members concerned about Google's announcement on that policy change.

Google said last week it was updating its privacy policiesto simplify them, as, it pointed out, regulators had called for. But part of
that simpler message will be a change in its policy. "[I]f you're signed in,
we may combine information you've provided from one service with information
from other services. In short, we'll treat you as a single user across all our
products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience,"
the company said.

That prompted pushback from concerned legislators, including
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), co-chairs of the House Privacy
Caucus, who sought a ruling from the Federal Trade Commission on whether that
move would violated Google's settlement with the FTC over privacy issues (the
FTC is currently conducting an antitrust investigation into Google's search and
advertising businesses.)

In its letter, Google told the legislators, which included
Markey and Barton, that it would only be combining users who signed into its
services, rather than those simply watching a YouTube video or doing a Google
search. It also said that users will still be able to opt out of personalized
searches or ads; that Google is not sharing, renting or selling user information
it collects to improve the user experience across its platforms; and that even
those who do sign in can create separate accounts if they choose.

Google also points out that users don't have to use its
account-based services, but that if they do, they will not be able to opt out
of the information combination across those services. "If people continue
to use Google services after March 1, they'll be doing so under the updated
privacy policy," the company said in the letter. "The use of a
primary privacy policy that covers many products and enables the sharing of
data between them is an industry standard approach adopted by companies such as
Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo! and Apple."

But Google drove home the point that within those services
there remained various user controls over information, including Google
Dashboard that allows users to edit information stored in their account; ad
preferences manager, which allows them to opt out of targeted ads; an
off-the-record setting for Gmail chat to prevent IM archiving; and encryption
of Gmail and search results to protect from Wi-Fi hotspot snoopers. "We
are deeply committed to protecting the privacy of all of our users in their
online activities," said the company.

"Despite Google's recent response, it still appears that consumers will not be able to completely opt-out of data collection and information sharing among Google's services," Markey said in an e-mail to B&C. "Congress and consumers need more details, and I look forward to meeting with Google to get clarification about what the options are for consumers who wish to say no to these new changes."