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EPIC Slams Google’s Privacy Moves

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Google has announced plans to roll out a more streamlined version of
its privacy policies next month. The search giant insists the move to
simplify its policies is designed to reduce “legalese” and make its
policies more accessible to consumers.

“To be clear, we aren’t changing any of our privacy practices; we want
to make our policies more transparent and understandable,” Mike Yang,
Google’s associate general counsel, said in a blog post Friday.

But the move was blasted by privacy advocate Marc Rotenberg, executive
director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

“The obvious problem with the revised privacy policy is that Google is
now treating user data collection as part of an integrated platform.
Previously, users could selectively reveal information to Google for
the use of a particular service,” Rotenberg said in an email to

“The FTC needs to investigate these changes. This has significant
implications for the privacy of Internet users who have previously
provided personal information to Google,” he said.

The changes are scheduled to be implemented Oct. 3, but Google has
already posted a
detailed preview

Under the heading, “Information you provide,” the new policy states:

“We may combine the information you submit under your account with
information from other Google services or third parties in order to
provide you with a better experience and to improve the quality of our
services. For certain services, we may give you the opportunity to opt
out of combining such information.”

That same wording appears in the current policy that’s been in place
since January 2009. But even if Google’s policy isn’t new, the number
of Google services released under that privacy policy is growing and
now includes Google’s social service Buzz and its plan to offer other
social media services.

Yang said some of Google’s services have supplementary privacy
policies that had previously made it difficult for users to understand
and keep track of.

“Since there is a lot of repetition, we are deleting 12 of these
product-specific policies,” Yang said. “These changes are also in line
with the way information is used between certain products — for
example, since contacts are shared between services like Gmail, Talk,
Calendar and Docs, it makes sense for those services to be governed by
one privacy policy as well.”

In response to Rotenberg’s comments, a spokesperson for Google
reiterated the company isn’t changing any of its privacy practices.

“Retiring certain product-specific privacy policies and having these
products be governed by the main Privacy Policy more accurately
reflects what is actually already happening in our products,” the
spokesperson said in an email to “For
example, people who use both Gmail and Talk expect to see the same
contacts in both products. Moreover, users can still use whichever
Google products they want, and they can control information for
services associated with their Google Account through the Google Dashboard.”

The news comes at a time of growing concern among both consumers and
enterprise users over how their information is shared, protected and
displayed on social media specifically and across the Web in general.

Google had to quickly revamp
, its social media application for Gmail, after complaints
that the service shared
too much information
on who users were connected to by default.

Similarly, Facebook’s gone through numerous revisions

to its privacy policies in response to a variety of complaints
including that the site’s privacy settings were too hard to manage and
keep current.

Yang said that a new privacy
tools page
is designed to provide ready access to the company’s
privacy tools in one place. Google has also now posted an FAQ
on the policy update.

But for all the streamlining, Yang conceded the firm’s privacy
policies aren’t likely to be a scintillating read. “Our updated
privacy policies still might not be your top choice for beach reading
(I am, after all, still a lawyer), but hopefully you’ll find the
improvements to be a step in the right direction,” he said.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at, the news
service of, the
network for technology professionals.

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