UPDATE: 36 state Attorneys General question Google privacy changes

AGs cite potential increase in identity theft risk

36 state Attorneys General Wednesday questioned Google's decision to change its privacy policies.

Thirty-six state Attorneys General Wednesday questioned Google's decision to change its privacy policies.

In a letter addressed to Google CEO Larry Page, the 36 Attorneys General express major concerns over the impending privacy policy changes, especially regarding how the new policies could increase the risk of identity theft and fraud across the web. The AGs say Google's new policy of consolidating users' data profiles across multiple services such as Gmail, YouTube and Google+ could make it easier for hackers to gain users' personal information and to steal their identity.

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"Our offices litigate cases of identity fraud with regularity and it seems plain to us that Google's privacy policy changes... pose the risk of much more damaging cases of identity theft and fraud when that data is compromised," the Attorneys General wrote in their letter. "With this newly consolidated bank of personal data, we foresee potentially more severe problems arising from any data breach."

The AGs also noted that users who own Android smartphones often have no choice but to be logged into their Google accounts, thus making it more difficult for them to search on their smartphones without having their searches added to their Google personal information profiles.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, one of the 36 AGs to sign the letter, said in a separate statement that Google's new policies were particularly problematic because they do not allow users to opt out of the changes.

"We are concerned that Google's new policy may threaten the ability of each user to keep certain aspects of their online history private," she said. "The threat of identity theft is everywhere and we want to ensure that Google provides appropriate protection by giving consumers meaningful choices in determining how and when they share their personal information."

Google responded to the Attorneys General by saying that its security controls were already top-notch and that consolidating its privacy policies would not increase users’ risk of having their identity stolen.  They also said they were more than happy to discuss the changes to their policy with regulators across the world.

“We provide industry-leading security for all data stored in a user’s Google Account,” Google said.  “This is unchanged by our updated Privacy Policy.”

Google last month announced that it was consolidating its privacy policies and would start sharing users' data across multiple services. So for example, if a certain user searches for a movie trailer while logged into their YouTube account, they may receive an advertisement for that movie in their Gmail account. Similarly, YouTube may recommend certain videos for a user depending on frequently-used words in their email accounts. Google says this new information sharing will improve Google users' online experience by giving them more relevant advertisements and by consolidating Google's privacy policies.

The privacy policy changes, which are due to go into effect on March 1, have sparked concern from both consumer groups and from lawmakers such as Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who wrote on a blog post last month that "Google's attempts to amplify and contextualize this information through targeted ads, map suggestions or calendar reminders could have negative consequences for users."

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