Google's new privacy policy attracting attention from Congress

Markey calls 'em out

This isn't entirely surprising, but Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) is calling for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google's sweeping new privacy policy that will extend to most of its major services:

"All consumers should have the right to say no to sharing of their personal information, particularly when young people are involved," Markey said. "Google's new privacy policy should enable consumers to opt-out if they don’t want their use of YouTube to morph into YouTrack.  Consumers – not corporations – should have control over their own personal information, especially for children and teens." [...]

 

The changes would allow Google to share information between its services. Users could begin seeing advertisements in Gmail based on videos they watched on YouTube, for example.

But Markey said those changes could violate the settlement that Google reached with the FTC last year.

The FTC charged Google with violating its own privacy policy by automatically opting users in to its now defunct social network, Google Buzz.

To settle the charges, Google agreed to not misrepresent its privacy practices or change the way it uses or shares consumer data without obtaining consent first.

I haven't read the exact wording of the Google-FTC settlement yet, but here's what the FTC said about Google sharing user data without user consent in its initial press release about the settlement from last March:  

The settlement requires the company to obtain users' consent before sharing their information with third parties if Google changes its products or services in a way that results in information sharing that is contrary to any privacy promises made when the user's information was collected.  

The crux here is whether the combined information sharing that Google is about to engage in violates any terms of service that the company gave to users when they first signed up for individual services.  If that's the case, then Google may indeed need to get users' explicit permission before implementing these new changes.

At any rate, this goes back to my long whine about user data on social networks in general: Why not let us opt in to major changes in how our data is shared rather than forcing us to opt out (or, in Google's case, not even giving us that option)?  I can't believe Google didn't forsee a backlash of some kind brewing over these privacy changes.  We'll see in the coming months whether the company has all its legal bases covered when it makes the switch.

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