Google standing by hotly contested change in privacy policy

WASHINGTON — Google is maintaining that a privacy policy implemented Thursday is not the dangerous change civil liberties experts are claiming it could become.

The new approach combines the privacy policies of more than 60 Google products into a uniform code that emphasizes what the search giant considers a “more intuitive user experience.”

In an official Google blog post Thursday, Alma Whitten, the company’s director of privacy, product and engineering, wrote that the policy adjustment makes Google’s privacy controls easier to understand. Beyond that, nothing has been drastically modified, she said in the blog post.

“The new policy doesn’t change any existing privacy settings or how any personal information is shared outside of Google,” Whitten wrote. “We aren’t colleting any new or additional information about users. We won’t be selling your personal data. And we will continue to employ industry-leading security to keep your information safe.”

The company has contended a more universal policy will work to its users’ advantage in the long run. For example, under the new privacy policy, one Google product could generate traffic conditions if another Google product pinpoints the user in a certain geographic location.

Since the altered privacy policy was disclosed earlier this year, it has touched off a wave of international criticism from everyone from civil liberties watchdogs to elected officials.

In late February, 36 attorneys general signed an open letter dinging Google for not allowing users to opt out of the new privacy policy. The message, addressed to Google CEO Larry Page, addes that the privacy shift allows a user’s personal information to be shared across multiple services even if the user signs up on only one service.

The privacy policy revamping basically results in personal data being “held hostage in the Google ecosystem,” the members of the National Association of Attorneys General said in the letter.

The association’s missive came several days after the Electronic Privacy Information Center sued the Federal Trade Commission as a way of persuading it to curb Google’s impending policy change.

And on Thursday, European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding declared the consolidated privacy policy goes against European law. She told the BBC that the search giant is not following transparency rules as it collects personal information across Google’s dozens of platforms, including YouTube and Blogger.

Google has greeted each challenge with the same defense: Its new, unified privacy policy follows all applicable laws and makes using its services easier for all users.

The company told a reporter for The Washington Post’s Post Tech blog that it remains “happy to discuss this approach with regulators globally.”

Thursday’s Google blog post confirmed the company’s confidence in its privacy policy revision.

“As you use our products one thing will be clear: It’s the same Google experience that you’re used to, with the same controls,” Whitten wrote.


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