US lawmakers request information on new Google privacy policy

[JURIST] US Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) [official website; press release] and seven other lawmakers Thursday sent a letter [text, PDF] to Google CEO Larry Page [NYT backgrounder] containing 11 questions regarding consumer privacy rights as affected by Google's new privacy policies [corporate website]. The letter states that the privacy policy and Google's consolidated data sharing system raise questions about whether consumers can opt out of the new system, either globally or on a product-by-product basis. As Co-Chairman of the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, Markey also expressed concerns as to whether Google's new policies violate the settlement [JURIST report] reached with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] last year:

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. I plan to ask the Federal Trade Commission whether Google's planned changes to its privacy policy violate Google's recent settlement with the agency.
Markey emphasized the degree to which consumers rely on Google and the importance of protecting the user's privacy. The FTC settlement resulted after privacy concerns arose over Google's controversial Buzz social networking tool rollout. According to its statement announcing the new privacy policy to members, Google's policy changes are directed across all of their services with the intention of creating a better user experience.

Google has had several legal battles in the last year, with consumer privacy rights often at issue. In August the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced that the agency had reached a $500 million settlement [JURIST report] with Google for permitting Canadian pharmaceutical companies to advertise to and target US consumers. In July a federal judge extended settlement negotiations [JURIST report] over a 2005 copyright suit filed against Google over its Google Books [corporate website] book scanning project. Also in July another federal judge ruled that Google could appeal a decision permitting a wiretapping lawsuit [JURIST report] over Google's Street View [corporate website] service to proceed. Google was accused of violating user privacy by using WiFi networks to collect data for the service, a charge that came as a result of a multistate investigation that began in June of 2010. There have been international rulings on the Street View service as well. A Swiss court ruled the service constituted a violation of privacy, while a German court ruled it did not [JURIST reports].

 

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