Lawmakers press Google for more answers on privacy

ADVERTISEMENT

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

Google has come under fire since it announced last month it will consolidate the privacy policies of its various services into a single document. 

The change allows Google to share user information between its services. Words in private emails could influence search results on YouTube, for example. 

The company says the change makes its privacy policy easier to understand and will help it tailor search results to individual users. Google officials note that users can still adjust their privacy settings.

In their letter to Google CEO Larry Page, Bono Back and Butterfield asked the company to clarify how long it takes to fulfill a user's request to delete information.

They said "perhaps the most troubling" aspect of the privacy change is that users' search histories could influence the advertisements they see. 

"While there may be reasons some consumers prefer advertisements tailored on their search history, many of us believe that users' search history may be sensitive and should remain anonymous," the lawmakers wrote.

They asked Google to describe how much control users have over sharing their search history and whether there is a way to easily opt out, aside from using a competing search engine.

In a previous blog post, Google explained that users can delete or turn off their search history.

The lawmakers expressed concern over how the privacy changes will affect consumers who use Google's Android operating system on their phones. They asked if consumers would have to log out of their mobile email application to opt out of tracking.

Google says it will only share sensitive information with third parties if the company has the user's consent, but the lawmakers asked Google to further explain what information qualifies as "sensitive." In particular, they asked what sorts of medical search information Google collects and shares.

"Privacy is something we take very seriously, and we're happy to answer their questions," a Google spokeswoman said.

The privacy changes are set to go into effect on March 1.

--Updated at 9:56 p.m.