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Google Defends 'Simpler' Privacy Policy in 13-Page Letter to Congress

By Rob Spiegel E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
Jan 31, 2012 2:16 PM PT

Google has responded to a letter from members of Congress with its own 13-page missive explaining changes to its privacy policy that will take effect on March 1.

Google Defends 'Simpler' Privacy Policy in 13-Page Letter to Congress

Among other things, the letter signed by eight legislators stated that "consumers should have the ability to opt out of data collection when they are not comfortable with a company's term of service."

In its response, Google maintained that its new privacy policy will not impact users' existing privacy settings, and that it will not be "collecting any new or additional data about users."

The update is designed to make Google's privacy policy simpler and easier to understand, the letter says.

Users do have some options for increasing their privacy, Google said -- for example, they can turn off search history and make a Google chat session "off the record."

The Price for Free Services

"Google is always going to cause concerns about privacy," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told the E-Commerce Times.

It is going to be an ongoing problem, he noted, because Google provides information on its users to advertisers for revenue.

Many online services come at no outright cost to users because the providers can make money by tracking behavior.

"Privacy is part of what you give up to use a free service like Google," said Enderle. "They make money from your eyeballs. That is at cross purposes to privacy concerns."

The timing of the letter from Congress may not be a coincidence. Politicians are particularly sensitive to constituent concerns during even years.

"It's an election year, and that means anything can be a topic of concern, and anything can get overheated," said Enderle. "Privacy is something that affects folks, so it's an issue."

Inherited Problems

Election year or not, privacy ought to worry Internet users, suggested Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC.

"Everybody young and old should be concerned about it," she told the E-Commerce Times.

Google, Facebook and Apple have inherited all the problems that plagued Microsoft 15 years ago, DiDio observed. "They're getting all the European Union complaints. They're getting sued all over the world. People are carefully watching what Google is saying, and Google shouldn't minimize how important privacy is."

With U.S. government officials looking closely at Google, the company is going to have to come up with good reasons for its practices.

"This is not going to go away," said DiDio.

Generational Views of Privacy

There may be some generational aspects to concerns over privacy. Younger users don't tend to put as much emphasis on it.

"With Generation X, there's a shift in terms of how privacy is considered," noted Enderle. "The younger you are, the fewer concerns you have about privacy."

When privacy terms are violated, younger users can be just as intolerant as Boomers, he said, but they are far less concerned in general.

"Kids are carefree," said DiDio. "If it isn't impacting them, they don't care."

Privacy should matter to them, though, even if they are not aware of its importance until they get hit, she warned.

"Kids are targeted online," said DiDio. "They can be bullied. They can be victimized by a cyberheist."

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