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36 state AGs blast Google's privacy policy change

Change will be especially troublesome for Android users, officials warn

February 24, 2012 02:07 PM ET

Computerworld - Attorneys General from 36 states are concerned over the potential implications of Google's new privacy policy, especially for government users and owners of Android-powered smartphones.

In a sharply-worded letter (a target="new" href="http://epic.org/privacy/google/20120222-Google-Privacy-Policy-Final.pdf">download PDF) to Google CEO Larry Page, the officials questioned Google's commitment to consumer privacy and said the changes would force Internet users to share their data without giving them a proper ability to opt out.

The letter is the latest, and perhaps most dramatic, expression of concern stemming from Google's announcement that it would create a single privacy policy for all its online products. Under the new policy, scheduled to go into effect March 1, Google will combine user data from services like YouTube, Gmail and Google search and create a single merged profile for each user of its services.

Google said the new policy is shorter, easier to understand and will allow the company to deliver better and more targeted services for users of its products. The company also noted that users who do not like the new policy can simply stop using its services.

In their Feb. 22 letter, the attorneys general said, "Google's new privacy policy goes against a respect for privacy that Google has carefully cultivated as a way to attract consumers. It rings hollow to call [the ability of users] to exit the Google products ecosystem a 'choice' in an Internet economy where the clear majority of all Internet users use - and frequently rely on - at least one Google product on a regular basis."

The letter makes special mention of the potential problems the new privacy policy will have on Android-powered smartphone users, many of whom will find it "virtually impossible" to escape the policy without ditching their phones.

Privacy advocates have blasted the move and said that it will force users to share data about themselves that they may not want shared, given a proper choice. They have said that such data synthesizing will allow Google to look at everything a user does online and tie it back to specific individuals.

Some have noted that the user tracking and inference-making Google will be able to do once the data is merged is especially troublesome for government users of Google applications.

Many of those same concerns were echoed by the attorneys general in their letter to Page. Until now, users of different Google products expected that information provided for one service would not be combined with information provided for another, they said.

"Consumers have diverse interests and concerns, and may want the information in their Web History to be kept separate from the information they exchange via Gmail," the letter said. "Likewise, consumers may be comfortable with Google knowing their Search queries but not with it knowing their whereabouts."



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