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February 22, 2012
McKenna questions Google’s new privacy policy

“Comprehensive integration” of consumer data may compromise privacy

SEATTLE – In a letter to Google Chief Executive Larry Page, Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna and 35 other state attorneys general outlined concerns about big changes to Google’s privacy policy. State attorneys general say the changes, going into effect on March 1, threaten the confidentiality of Google customers.  State AGs also say it has the potential to heighten the risk of identity theft and fraud, given that Google plans to store more detailed customer information.

“Consumers should have the choice of opting in, rather than being forced to opt out, before they give out so much personal information,” McKenna said. “Next month, those using Google’s search engine, Google Maps, YouTube and about half of all smartphones will be among those most affected. Their whereabouts, calling, buying and Web browsing habits will be tracked for commercial uses—and there’s no easy way to say no, other than ditching your phone and most of Google’s other products.”

Under the new privacy policy, Google gives itself the freedom to combine users’ personal information from their Web browsing, along with their interactions with all other popular Google products, such as YouTube and GoogleDocs. It prevents existing users from easily opting out of having all of their information integrated.

The ramifications of the new privacy policy will be virtually impossible to avoid for millions of consumers who already use Android-powered smartphones, which represent approximately 50 percent of the smartphone market. Users must log in to Google to activate much of the functionality of their Android phones.  They will now have to choose between either frequently logging in and out to avoid Google’s consolidation of their data, thus greatly reducing the efficiency of their smartphones, or replacing their devices at significant personal expense.

The attorneys general also point out that consolidated personal data profiles offer a tantalizing target for hackers and privacy thieves, writing that Google’s creation of richer personal data profiles poses “the risk of much more damaging cases of identity theft and fraud when that data is compromised, a risk that will grow as instances of computer hacking grow.”

McKenna added that there may be consumers who welcome the consolidation and sharing of their personal information across multiple platforms, especially because this data may lead to more customized services.  However, many consumers will either dislike the consolidation or not realize the potential harm. That’s why the attorneys general believe consumers deserve a full accounting of how the new privacy policy may impact them, and a real opportunity to avoid being subjected to it.

The attorneys general have requested a meeting with Google Inc. CEO Larry Page as soon as possible. Mr. Page has been asked to reply no later than Wednesday, February 29.

The states and territories signing on to the letter are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virgin Islands and Washington.


Janelle Guthrie, Director of Communications, (360) 586-0725


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