January 27, 2012, 12:38 PM

Congressmen search for answers from Google

They want information about Google's revised privacy policy.

Lead Photo

Eight Congressmen yesterday sent a written inquiry to Google Inc. seeking information about the company’s revised privacy policy. The revised policy, which will be introduced in March, makes clear that the search giant is monitoring a consumer’s actions across various Google products so that it can better target ads at consumers across multiple web-enabled devices.

“While Google suggests that the purpose of this shift in policy is to make the consumer experience simpler, we want to make sure it does not make protecting consumer privacy more complicated,” said the letter, which was signed by Reps. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations; Joe Barton (R-Texas), co-chairman of the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus; and Edward Markey (D-Mass), co-chairman of the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, among others.

The congressmen want Google to detail how the changes will alter Google’s data collection procedures, whether it will sell, trade or rent consumers’ information, how it will leverage that data across its various products, as well as whether consumers will have an opportunity to opt-out of any data collection.

“As an Internet giant, Google has a responsibility to protect the privacy of its users,” says the letter. “Therefore, we are writing to learn why Google feels that these changes are necessary and what steps are being taken to ensure the protection of consumers’ privacy rights.” 

Markey also asked for a probe into whether the changes violate an agreement the search giant reached with the Federal Trade Commission after it failed to inform consumers how it would use their information for its Google Buzz social network. The agreement specified that before Google can change how it shares its users’ “identified information with any third party,” either as a result of changes in practices or of changes to a product or service such as Gmail, Google must first “obtain affirmative express consent from the Google user to such sharing.”

“Google’s plan to change its privacy policy raises important questions about how much control Google users will have over their personal information,” says Markey. “While it is undetermined at this point how the policy will impact specific Google services, it is imperative that users will be able to decide whether they want their information shared across the spectrum of Google’s offerings.”

Google looks forward to answering the Congressmen’s questions, wrote Betsy Masiello, Google’s policy manager in a blog post.

”We're not collecting more data about you,” she wrote. “Our new policy simply makes it clear that we use data to refine and improve your experience on Google. We're making things simpler and we're trying to be upfront about it. Period."

Google is the latest large Internet company to come under Congressional scrutiny for its privacy policies. Facebook Inc. in September faced questions after an Australian technology blogger posted a story noting the social network was gathering information about users whenever they visited web pages featuring Facebook’s Like button—even after they logged out of the social network. And Congressmen questioned Groupon Inc. in August about its mobile app’s tracking capabilities.

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