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Scrutiny Over Google Privacy Changes Shifts to States Scrutiny Over Google Privacy Changes Shifts to States

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Congress

Scrutiny Over Google Privacy Changes Shifts to States

February 22, 2012

Three dozen state attorneys general are demanding that Google CEO Larry Page meet with them to find a way to allay their concerns over the company's proposed privacy changes, which also have prompted scrutiny from Congress.

Google said last month that it would be consolidating many of its privacy policies and would track and gather data about users when they move from one Google service to another.

"Given all of our serious concerns, and given our obligation to protect consumers within our states, we request to meet with you as soon as possible to work toward a solution that will best protect the privacy needs of those who use Google's products," the 36 states attorneys general wrote in a letter sent to Page on Wednesday. The top prosecutors, led by Douglas Gansler of Maryland and Robert McKenna of Washington state, demanded a reply by Feb. 29.

The attorneys general outlined several concerns with Google's changes, set to go into effect March 1. They worry that users will not be able to effectively opt out of being tracked by Google and having that data combined with other information the company gathers from users of its products. While some users can choose to stop using Google products, changing services could be costly for businesses and other users who rely on Google for e-mail and other products, or use mobile phones with the Google Android operating system.

"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 letter added. "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."

Google has argued that it is not collecting any new data and that it offers users many tools to control the level of privacy they want.

"Our updated Privacy Policy will make our privacy practices easier to understand, and it reflects our desire to create a seamless experience for our signed-in users," Google said in a statement Wednesday. "Of course we are happy to discuss this approach with regulators globally."

Meanwhile, the Center for Digital Democracy filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission Wednesday against Google's privacy changes, saying they violate the privacy agreement the company reached last year with the commission. Other groups have made similar claims. The Electronic Privacy Information Center has called on a federal court to order the FTC to enforce its settlement against Google.

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