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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