Skip to main content

Google to unify privacy policy across products

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

A leading lawmaker on privacy issues said Thursday he would ask for a probe into whether recently announced changes in how Google Inc. handles consumer data violated an agreement it made with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

Representative Edward Markey was also one of eight U.S. lawmakers who sent a letter to Google expressing concern that a planned consolidation of user information may make it more difficult for consumers to protect their privacy.

In a separate statement, Mr. Markey went further: "I plan to ask the Federal Trade Commission whether Google's planned changes to its privacy policy violate Google's recent settlement with the agency."

Story continues below advertisement

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

Google, whose offerings include its flagship search product, Gmail, YouTube and Google Plus products, announced on Tuesday that it was unifying 60 of its privacy policies. The company said it would "mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience."

However, after the new policy comes into effect, user information from most Google products will be treated as a single trove of data, which the company could use for its targeted advertising dollars.

The lawmakers said the announcement raises questions about whether consumers will have enough power to opt-out of data sharing systems. They also asked what security steps are being taken to ensure the safety of customer data.

"While Google suggests that the purpose of this shift in policy is to make the consumer experience simpler, we want to make sure it does not make protecting consumer privacy more complicated," the lawmakers said in a letter to Google's chief executive Larry Page.

The letter was dated Thursday.

Republican signatories were representatives Cliff Stearns, Joe Barton and Marsha Blackburn.

Story continues below advertisement

Democratic signatories included Representative Markey and representatives Henry Waxman, Dianne DeGette, G.K. Butterfield, and Jackie Speier, who has introduced privacy legislation.

All of the lawmakers except for Ms. Speier are members of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Google, in a statement from policy manager Betsy Masiello, insisted on Thursday that users had "choice and control.

"We're not collecting more data about you. Our new policy simply makes it clear that we use data to refine and improve your experience on Google," she wrote. "We're making things simpler and we're trying to be upfront about it. Period."

Online privacy has come under scrutiny from Washington as a handful of web giants have been accused of compromising user privacy to attract advertisers.

Late last year, Facebook settled with the FTC agreeing to be regulated for a period of 20 years whenever it decides to change its privacy policy.

Story continues below advertisement

In 2010, the FTC settled charges with Twitter, after the agency alleged that the social networking service had failed to safeguard users' personal information.

U.S. regulators are reportedly looking into whether Google manipulates its search results to favor its own products and have expanded the probe to include Google Plus.

Report an error
Tickers mentioned in this story
Unchecking box will stop auto data updates
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies