House lawmakers request briefing on Google privacy policy changes

Reps. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) wrote to Google CEO Larry Page on Monday and requested a briefing on the company's recent changes to its privacy policy.

"As Google's announcement also states, 'this stuff matters,' and we agree: it matters deeply to both policymakers and consumers," the lawmakers wrote.

They asked Page or his "designee" to meet with lawmakers to discuss the privacy changes by the end of the week.

ADVERTISEMENT
Bono Mack and Butterfield are the top lawmakers on the Energy and Commerce's subpanel on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, which has jurisdiction over data privacy issues.

Google announced last week it will consolidate the privacy policies of its various services into a single document. The company said the change will make its privacy policy simpler and easier to understand, but many consumers are expressing alarm.

The changes would allow Google to share information between its services. Users could begin seeing advertisements in Gmail based on videos they watched on YouTube, for example.


In an email to Google users, the company said the changes will allow it to tailor its services to individual users.

"If you're signed into Google, we can do things like suggest search queries — or tailor your search results — based on the interests you've expressed in Google+, Gmail, and YouTube," the company explained. "We'll better understand which version of Pink or Jaguar you're searching for and get you those results faster."

"We applaud the move toward a shorter, simpler, streamlined policy, and believe that easier-to-understand terms of service are in the best interest of consumers," Bono Mack and Butterfield wrote. "We are concerned, however, with other changes to Google's privacy policy, particularly with how a user's data will be collected, combined, archived, and used across platforms and services."

They said that not allowing users to opt out of the information-sharing "appears to significantly reduce the spirit and substance of 'meaningful choice.' "

In a blog post, Betsy Masiello, a policy manager for Google, emphasized users still have control over their privacy settings and said the company will not collect any new data about users.

She acknowledged that members of Congress and others have raised questions about the changes and said "that's understandable."

"We look forward to answering those questions, and clearing up some of the misconceptions about our privacy policies," she wrote.

A group of lawmakers, including Butterfield, also wrote to Google last week with a series of questions about the changes.