Google privacy policy could hurt government agencies, AGs fear

Attorneys general in 36 states are raising fresh concerns about impending changes to Google’s privacy policy and its impact on consumers and on federal, state and local government employees.

Google previously announced that starting on March 1 it will begin to consolidate user information from Gmail, Google Search, YouTube and all other Google products into a single, integrated user profile that will make it easier to target advertised products to the user.

The National Association of Attorneys General wrote to Google on Feb. 22, in a letter signed by the 36 attorneys general, to express broad concerns on behalf of consumers. The state officials alleged that Google’s new policy is more invasive of privacy than in the past and consumers should have an option to opt out of the new policy.

In the letter, the officials also raised questions about how Google’s new privacy policy will affect federal, state, county and municipal users of Google Apps for Government.

“The problem is compounded for the many federal, state, and local government agencies that have transitioned to Google Apps for Government at the encouragement of your company and that now will need to spend taxpayer dollars determining how this change affects the security of their information and whether they need to switch to different platforms,” the attorneys general wrote in the letter.

While Google and the General Services Administration previously have said that the new privacy policy does not apply to the Google Apps for Government federal contract, it is not known whether that is the case for state and local governments that use Google Apps for Government. Those state and local offices may need to investigate how they might be impacted by the new policy, said a spokesman for the attorneys general organization.

In addition, there are concerns about how the new Google policy may affect federal, state and local government workers, especially those in sensitive positions such as law enforcement, when they use their private Google accounts and Android devices, the spokesman added.

Many employees in public and private workplaces check personal email accounts while at work. Google has said that it will track and consolidate all information collected by Google products while a user is signed in.

The attorneys general have asked Google to respond by Feb. 29.

“We are hopeful that Google will respond with information about how the new policy affects Google Apps for Government, especially given the sensitive nature of government information and government officials,” Stephen Ruckman, assistant attorney general for Maryland, said in an interview on Feb. 27.

Google executives were not immediately available for comment about the attorneys generals’ letter. In previous statements, the Google executives have asserted that their new privacy policy does not collect any new information from users and is intended to simplify and streamline the company’s numerous privacy policies into a single policy.

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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Reader comments

Tue, Feb 28, 2012 DRG california

Not sure about how it will affect the Gov but for end users .WHO WANT TO CONTINUE TO USE G-MAIL. Immediately KILL your current Google and g-mail accounts as you don't have enough time to clean them up BY TOMORROW AS ALL EMAILS, DATA, DOWNLOADS AND SEARCH HISTORY WILL BE AGGREGATED. Open a new g-mail account without any identification to your real name or photo...continue to divide and conquer... NEVER use Google search. switch to Firefox browser WITH PERMANENT in-private browsing settings, NEVER USE INTERNET EXPLORER...Yahoo or dogpile browsers again set to permanent in-private browsing. Never use GOOGLE BROWSER. on YOUR CONTROL PANEL block all scripts, SET NEVER SAVE HISTORY, SET IN-PRIVATE BROWSING. YOU WILL SEE OPTIONS ON THE BOTTOM OF EVERY PAGE YOU SEARCHED FOR AND CHOOSE ALLOW SCRIPTS FROM THAT PAGE ONLY. !temporary! It's not perfect and I am not an IT professional we don't have much time to solve the problem. We need laws to prevent companies from making these types of forced changes so quickly as the general public is unable to "get it together" to protect themselves until everyone else figures it out!

Tue, Feb 28, 2012 Cowboy Joe

"R" said it. Google, Facebook, etc., etc. exist because they make money for lots of people - kinda' hard to do just by givin' stuff away. I some respects, what they're doin' is kinda' useful - I don't need to see ads for gucci-goo even if my horse needs a new pair a' shoes. At the same time, I don't particularly want to have a bunch a prozac ads poppin' up on my screen when I use my iPad guitar to sing a song about lone wolves howlin' on the high prarie.

Tue, Feb 28, 2012 Olde Sarge DC

No government agency or business enterprise should ever rely on software as a service from any vendor that is not a segregated private cloud. The vendor has no proprietary need for targeting advertising at communities paying for its services. Period. Ever. If the government or a large business wishes to adopt the SOS model, it should do so in a private cloud that it controls completely. What flies for the public on the internet is neither practical or appropriate for government and business.

Tue, Feb 28, 2012 R

Actually, from what I read (and could understand), all Google has said is what many smarter folks already knew, you do not have any secrets from Google and they WILL do what they want with that knowledge.

Remember, the ONLY secure system is one not near an internet connection, and the most secure system is locked in a safe in the off position. Google is not secure, they are in the business of making money from knowledge. That is why everything seems to be free at Google, you are paying under the table from a pocket most folks are not aware of or do not know what is really in it – aka Privacy.

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