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US lawmakers question Google over privacy policy

Politicos ask if Chocolate Factory's new rules violate an FTC agreement

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Google is insisting that its new privacy policy will still give its users control, after criticism in a letter from US members of Congress.

The lawmakers wrote to Google to express concern that users wouldn't be able to opt-out of the new data sharing system when using Chocolate Factory products.

"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," the letter said.

Google already said when introducing the new privacy policy that it wanted to make privacy across its products easier and clearer.

"Our new Privacy Policy makes clear that, if you’re signed in, we may combine information you've provided from one service with information from other services. In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience," the Chocolate Factory's official blog chirped on Wednesday.

The policy looked to many commentators like Google would collect data on users whatever they surfed and whenever they used their phone and use it to target advertising and search results to them.

The US politicos said they were worried that some Google products and services are more hidden, so users might not necessarily know what data was being linked to them and that most products can't be used without logging in.

"What are the names of all of the Google products and services? For each product, are you able to use that product without logging in?" the letter demanded.

They also have bees in their bonnets about Android phones, which usually require a Google account of some description.

"Please explain exactly how a user of an Android phone will be affected by Google's new policy? Is there any ability for users to opt-out, other than not purchasing and using an Android phone?" the letter asked.

Congressman Ed Markey, one of the signatories to the letter, said on his website that he was particularly worried about how the new policy would affect young people.

"Googling is like breathing for millions of kids and teens - they can’t live without it," he said.

"Google's new privacy policy should enable consumers to opt-out if they don’t want their use of YouTube to morph into YouTrack."

Markey also questioned if what Google was doing was a violation of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. Last March, Google and the FTC reached an agreement after the rollout of the short-lived Buzz social network that required the firm to seek consent if it gathered information under one privacy policy but then changed that policy.

"Consumers - not corporations - should have control over their own personal information, especially for children and teens. I plan to ask the FTC whether Google’s planned changes to its privacy policy violate Google's recent settlement with the agency," Markey said.

The Chocolate Factory took to its blog again following the letter to defend the new policy.

"A lot has been said about our new privacy policy," policy manager Betsy Masiello said. "Some have praised us for making our privacy policy easier to understand. Others have asked questions, including members of Congress, and that’s understandable too."

"So here’s the real story, you still have choice and control."

The posting then went on to answer some of the questions from the letter.

Google said that there was no need to log in to use a lot of its products, including search, maps and YouTube, and even when users were logged in, they could use privacy tools like 'incognito' to control their private data.

The search giant also said that it wasn't going to collect more data about its users, and it was just trying to "make things simpler". ®

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