Bono Mack Plans Privacy Hearing

Tue, Feb 28, 2012 at 11:10 am

    WASHINGTON – As watchdog groups urge a slowdown in Google’s new privacy policy, Rep. Mary Bono Mack’s office announced Tuesday a hearing on privacy issues March 29 in which Google will likely participate.

    The Internet giant’s new policy, which takes effect Thursday, requires users to let it combine and share information about usage patterns across multiple Google sites, including YouTube and Gmail. Not included will be Google Books, Google Wallet and Google Chrome.

    Those who don’t want to submit to the new policy have the option of canceling their Google accounts.

    It has provoked international controversy, with various consumer and public policy groups warning of a substantial loss of privacy for users as they lose control over various types of information about them.

    “Google is implementing an updated privacy policy for two reasons: to make our policy more simple and understandable for our users, and to make it clear in one comprehensive document that, if a user is signed in, we may combine information she has provided from one service with information from our other service,” the company said in a letter last week to Bono Mack, R-Calif.

    Bono Mack will chair the hearing in the subcommittee on manufacturing, commerce and trade of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

    “The exact topic of the March 29 hearing is still being developed,” Bono Mack spokesman Ken Johnson said. “Primarily, we will be looking at the FTC’s new privacy recommendations, but expect consumer groups and companies like Google to testify, too.”

    Subcommittee staff met privately with Google representatives Monday, Johnson said, “but no new ground was broken.”

    A coalition of five interest groups associated with consumer protection and electronic privacy issues want Congress to prohibit Google

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    from putting the new privacy policy into effect until public hearings can be held and the Federal Trade Commission completes a review.

    A primary concern, said David Jacobs of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, is that Google will be abetting Big Brother.

    The combined information “might be a more tempting target for law enforcement,” Jacobs said.

    He added that it could also lead to more identity fraud.

    The latter is a primary concern of the National Association of Attorneys General.

    “On a fundamental level, the policy appears to invade consumer privacy by automatically sharing personal information consumers input into one Google product with all Google products,” the group said in a Feb. 22 letter to Larry Page, chief executive officer of Google, headquartered in Mountain View, Calif.

    The letter said consumers “have diverse interests and concerns and may want the information in their Web History to be kept separate from the information they exchange via Gmail.”

    It added that “consumers may be comfortable with Google knowing their Search queries but not with it knowing their whereabouts, yet the new privacy policy appears to give them no choice in the matter, further invading their privacy.”

    Other organizations expressing concerning about the new policy include the Consumer Federation of America, the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups, the Center for Digital Democracy and Consumer Watchdog.

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