Consumer Watchdog Wants Larry Page for Privacy Hearing

Wed, Feb 15, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    Two weeks after after EU bodies requested that Google “pause” the rolling out of its privacy policy updates, US not-for-profit organization Consumer Watchdog has written to the US House of Representatives’ Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee, calling for CEO Larry Page to explain Google’s “disingenuous statements about its supposed commitment to users’ privacy.”

    Just to recap, Google announced last month that it was trimming down its privacy policies from across its various products – YouTube, Gmail, Google+ etc – and would blanket them underneath a single release, much to the chagrin of many observers. This led to a prominent EU regulatory body seeking an investigation to “check the possible consequences for the protection of the personal data of these citizens in a coordinated procedure.”

    Whilst Google refused the request to pause its roll-out, pressure is now mounting from elsewhere.

    The latest public letter was penned by Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director, John M. Simpson, and was addressed to the House’s subcommittee Chair Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) and Ranking Member G.K Butterfield, (D-NC). It starts: “I am writing on behalf of Consumer Watchdog to urge you to call Google’s CEO Larry Page to testify before your committee to explain his company’s disingenuous statements about its supposed commitment to users’ privacy.”

    It then outlines very specific reasons for requesting the hearing with Page, and is very open with its criticism for Google’s ‘real’ motives:

    “The new privacy policy violates Google’s consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission in which it agreed that it would not use people’s information in new ways without seeking opt-in consent. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a complaint and motion that would require the FTC to enforce the consent agreement.

    Google’s practices affect millions of Americans. Google is so dominant on the Internet that for many people Google is the Internet.

    You must not allow Google to escape legitimate privacy

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    concerns by sending underlings whose high-sounding pledges prove to be empty or whose answers prove insufficient in closed-door meetings. It is the chief executive who is ultimately responsible for the company’s behavior.”

    Whilst Simpson acknowledges Google’s claims regarding its policy overhaul, he suggests there’s more sinister motives at play. “The changes are being spun by the company as providing ‘a simpler, more intuitive Google experience’, he says. “In fact it is all about leveraging users’ data to maximize Google’s targeted ad revenue while giving consumers no meaningful control of their information.”

    Google’s new single-policy approach seeks to pull together more than sixty existing ones, and it’s currently scheduled to take effect from March 1st. We’ve contacted Google for a comment, and will update here once we hear back from them.

    Paul Sawers is UK & Media Editor at The Next Web. Follow Paul on Twitter: @TGW_Paul, or email him at paul(at)

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