Despite pleas to delay, Google plowed ahead on Thursday with controversial privacy changes that let it collect and combine data about its tens of millions of users.
But the company sought to reassure users that nothing earth-shattering was happening.
“The new policy doesn’t change any existing privacy settings or how any personal information is shared outside of Google. We aren’t collecting any new or additional information about users. We won’t be selling your personal data. And we will continue to employ industry-leading security to keep your information safe,” Alma Whitten, Google’s director of privacy, product, and engineering, said in a blog post on Thursday.
Google said last month that beginning on Thursday it was consolidating 60 different privacy policies and would start combining data it collects about users as they move from one of its services such as Gmail to another such as Google search.
Privacy advocates and other critics, however, say they are not backing down from their contention that Google’s new privacy policies violate U.S. and European law.
“Of course, we wanted the commission to act prior to the March 1 deadline, but after March 1 it will become easier for the [Federal Trade Commission] to act because then the violation has occurred in fact,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told National Journal late Wednesday.
EPIC filed suit earlier this month to require the FTC to enforce the provisions of a privacy settlement reached last year with Google. EPIC and other groups argue that Google’s privacy changes violate the settlement. A federal court last week dismissed EPIC’s lawsuit but an appeal is pending. Some lawmakers also have urged the FTC to examine whether Google’s changes are in line with promises it made in last year’s settlement.
So far the FTC has refused to comment on whether Google's privacy changes violate the settlement. But FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz appeared to signal some concern, saying on Sunday that Google was giving its users a “binary and somewhat brutal” choice. European privacy officials have been more blunt, telling Google this week that the company’s privacy changes appear to violate European law.
EPIC and other privacy advocates say the changes pose a threat to the millions of people who use Google’s products every day and violate the trust they put in the company. Google is the top search engine in the world, holding 66 percent of the U.S. search market, according to the latest figures from digital research firm comScore. Google is a leading provider of online ads, provides a popular e-mail service, and also owns the popular Internet video site YouTube.
“It is both unfair and unwise for you to ‘change the terms of the bargain’ as you propose to do,” the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue wrote Google on Wednesday. The coalition of U.S. and European consumer and privacy groups made a last-ditch appeal to Google to back off its privacy changes.
“Consumers have relied on your policies and your terms of services in choosing your products. Over this time, you have also acquired a great deal of consumers’ personal information. You record virtually every event of a Google user, in far more detail than consumers understand,” the group added.