Consumer Watchdog Calls For Google CEO Page To Testify About New Privacy Policy

WASHINGTON, DC — Consumer Watchdog has asked the House Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee Committee to hold hearings on Google’s new privacy and data policy and to call Google CEO Larry Page ” to explain his company’s disingenuous statements about its supposed commitment to users’ privacy.”

Consumer Watchdog called for the hearing in a letter released today to subcommittee Chair Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) and Ranking Member G.K Butterfield, (D-NC).

“Various Google executives dispatched to Congress in the past have voiced high-sounding commitments to privacy protections, only to have them flouted by the Internet giant’s later action,” wrote John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “As Google’s chief executive, the buck stops with Mr. Page. He should be called to explain the difference between his underlings’ statements and the company’s actions, particularly the recently announced change in Google’s privacy policy and how it handles user data across its services.”

Click here to read Consumer Watchdog’s letter

Google’s new policy, effective March 1, will combine more than 60 privacy policies across services including Search, Gmail and YouTube. The changes are being spun by the company as providing “a simpler, more intuitive Google experience,” Consumer Watchdog said.

In fact it is all about leveraging users’ data to maximize Google’s targeted ad revenues, while giving consumers no meaningful control of their information, Consumer Watchdog said. Previously, personal information was kept separate in each of Google’s services. These new combined digital dossiers are tremendously powerful for targeting ads, something that Google does not mention, Consumer Watchdog said.

As an example of how Google executives said one thing about privacy only to have the company do something else, Consumer Watchdog cited Dr. Alma Whitten’s testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee. Whitten is Google’s Director of Privacy, Product and Engineering. She testified in 2010 that “Our last three principles give substance to what we mean by privacy: We commit to transparency, user control and security.” Despite Dr. Whitten’s promise of “user control,”

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users will have no say in whether their data is merged, providing much more complete personal profiles, location and browsing data to advertisers. If Google were truly committed to “user control,” it would ask users to “opt in” to these substantive changes in its data handling, rather than imposing them across the board, Consumer Watchdog said.

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, Consumer Watchdog said. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a complaint and

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motion that would require the FTC to enforce the consent agreement. Consumer Watchdog’s letter concluded:

“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 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.

“Consumer Watchdog urges you to call Google CEO Larry Page before the committee in a public hearing and ask him to explain why Google does not honor its promise of users privacy rights.”

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Visit our website at: www.ConsumerWatchdog.org

Published by John M. Simpson

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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