Google tries to quell privacy policy backlash

Responding to an inquiry from lawmakers about its new privacy policy, Google issued a letter on Jan. 30 offering more details on what the policy covers, how it will be applied and how users can take actions to partly control collection of their data.

The Internet giant has been actively addressing a number of concerns about the comprehensive new policy since it was announced on Jan. 24.

Under the new policy, which takes effect March 1, Google would integrate a user’s information from multiple Google applications, including search, email, Calendar and YouTube, into a single profile. The integrated profile information would be used to improve the user’s experience, Google executives said.

However, lawmakers, technology analysts and members of the public have raised a number of concerns about user privacy as a result of the upcoming changes in how personal information is managed by Google.

While the Google Apps for Government suite of applications available under contract is not affected by the new policy, privacy concerns have been raised for federal employees, especially those in sensitive positions, who use Google applications without a contract, including home use.

In the letter response to lawmakers, Google executives offered more details on its policy, and offered tips on how to reduce collection of information.

For example, users may want to set up two or more accounts to keep home and business uses separate. Google said it would not share information between the accounts. For example, a woman who uses Google Docs at work could create one account specifically for that, and a separate account for her personal profile on Google+, Google said in the letter. The two accounts would never be linked.

“Our users can use as much or as little of Google as they want. For example, a user might have a Google Account and choose to use Gmail, but not use Google+. Or she could keep her data separated with different accounts – for example, one for YouTube and another for Gmail,” Google officials added in the letter.

The letter also advised that users can avoid tracking and profiling of their information if they do not sign into Google products. Many of the products can be used without signing in.

Products that can be used without sign-in include Web Search, Google Chrome, iGoogle, Mobile, Maps for Mobile, Search for Mobile, YouTube, Books, Images, News, Videos, Picasa, Picnik, Google, Offers, Maps, Earth, Panoramio, SketchUp, Sites, Translate, Google+, Blogger, Groups, Knol, Orkut, Blog Search, Custom Search, Patent Search, Product Search, Finance, Scholar, Trends and Code.

Users also can use Google controls for advertising preferences, search history and Dashboard to control which data is included in their profile, the company said.

Google also offered details on how long users’ data is stored, and on precautions for youth and teen privacy.



About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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