/ 9 February 2012

Advocacy group fights Google’s privacy changes

A consumer advocacy group on Wednesday filed a lawsuit to try to derail Google’s plan to merge user data from YouTube, Gmail, Google Plus and other services in individual comprehensive profiles.

The Electronic Privacy Information Centre urged a federal court to block Google from implementing the change on March 1 as planned and to direct the Federal Trade Commission to intervene.

Google announced the change to its terms of service in January, explaining that it will essentially “treat you as a single user across all our products” when it comes to use patterns tracked for targeting services, content or ads.

EPIC charged that the change would violate an agreement that the commission negotiated with the California internet giant last year to address privacy concerns raised by the launch of a failed Google Buzz social tool in 2010.

Combining user data as planned without consent from the people involved would breach the consent decree signed by Google, EPIC argued.

“EPIC is wrong on the facts and the law,” Google countered in a statement released on Wednesday.

Google, facing pressure from US lawmakers over the new privacy policy, said on January 31 that it remains committed to protecting consumer data as it creates a “seamless and easy” web experience.

Defending the changes
The internet giant sent a letter to lawmakers and posted comments on its public policy blog defending the changes, which will consolidate the policies of its offerings such as search, mail, video and map usage.

Google said in a blog post at the time that said the change will make Google’s privacy policy “simpler and more understandable” and will “make our users’ experience seamless and easy by allowing more sharing of information among products when users are signed into their Google accounts.”

Some privacy advocates have expressed concern that users will not be able to “opt out” of the new policy, which will allow advertisers to develop personalized messages based on web searches, use of Android mobile devices or activity on other Google products.

Google allows people to opt out of any data collecting by searching, watching videos on YouTube, getting directions on Google Maps and performing other tasks without signing into a Google account.”

US representatives Edward Markey and Joe Barton sent a letter to the FTC last month asking if the planned changes are a violation of the settlement.

Google said in its letter to lawmakers that “our approach to privacy has not changed” and that Google users “continue to have choice and control” over private data by not signing into accounts or by using other tools like anonymous search or chat. — AFP