Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), a congressional leader on consumer privacy, wrote today to Google CEO Larry Page requesting why Google is shifting its privacy policies and what it means for consumers. Said Stearns, "Google recently announced a change in its privacy policies that will allow it to monitor the activities of users as they move through Google web sites, which include YouTube and Gmail. We are asking Google to outline why it feels the changes in its privacy policies are necessary and what steps are being taken to protect the privacy rights of consumer."
Stearns gained strong bipartisan support for his letter, with seven members joining him in the inquiry: Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Ranking Member, Energy and Commerce Committee; Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), Co-Chairman, Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus; Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), Co-Chairman, Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus; Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Vice Chairman, Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade; Rep. Dianne DeGette (D-CO), Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations; Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-NC), Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade; and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA).
Although Google states that the change only will apply to users signed on to their Google accounts, the shift could impact consumers using an Android device because they are required to sign in with a Google account when they first activate their devices. The letter states, "Google's announcement raises questions about whether consumers can opt out of the new data sharing system either globally or on a product-by-product basis. We believe that consumers should have the ability to opt out of data collection when they are not comfortable with a company's terms of service and that the ability to exercise that choice should be simple and straightforward."
Added Stearns, "Google has a significant impact on online consumers with Google estimating that there are now 350 million active Gmail users." The letter asks Google to describe all the information Google will collect on consumers under the new privacy policies and why consumers cannot opt out. In addition, Google is asked to state how the information is collected, how the information will be used, and what is Google's process for sharing data across its products, features, and services.