The Electronic Privacy Information Center and other critics assert in the letter, dated Friday, that Google’s new policy is problematic because the company can now treat users’ data “as part of an integrated platform.”
They argue that in the past, people could “selectively reveal information to Google for the use of a particular service, such as email, document management, or mapping.” The new policy, they say, gives Google the right to transfer data from one service to another without seeking people’s consent. The advocates are asking Schmidt to withdraw the new policy. Signatories include representatives from the American Library Association, Consumer Federation of America, Center for Digital Democracy and the World Privacy Forum.
A Google spokesperson says the new document is meant to be “more transparent and understandable.”
The new policy reads: “When you sign up for a Google Account, we ask you for personal information. We may combine the information you submit under your account with information from other Google services or third parties in order to provide you with a better experience and to improve the quality of our services.”
Rotenberg says the old product-specific privacy policies didn’t give Google such broad rights. For instance, the former Gmail policy said that the company might use information in emails for reasons related to the service — such as blocking spam or backing up messages.
He adds that this issue came up earlier this year when Google launched Buzz, which transformed users’ Gmail contacts into social networking contacts. At launch, the feature initially revealed information about the names of users’ email contacts, if users activated Buzz without changing the defaults. This set-up meant that a host of confidential information could inadvertently become public, including the names of Gmail users’ doctors, lawyers or coworkers.