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Google dings missive to lawmakers: 'We're misunderstood'

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Google has responded to US politicos who demanded answers after the advertising giant announced it was "simplifying" its privacy policies across its huge online estate.

In a letter to eight members of Congress, Google's director of public policy, Pablo Chavez, explained he was hoping to "correct some of the misconceptions" about the tweaks to Mountain View's Terms of Service.

"Some have expressed concern about whether consumers can opt out of our updated privacy policy. We understand the question at the heart of this concern," he added in his preamble.

"We believe that the relevant issue is whether users have choices about how their data is collected and used. Google’s privacy policy – like that of other companies – is a document that applies to all consumers using our products and services. However, we have built meaningful privacy controls into our products, and we are committed to continue offering those choices in the future."

Chavez went on to cheerily highlight various "key points" that Google wanted to "clarify".

Apparently, telling people that changes to Google's privacy policy were imminent shows that the company leads "the industry in transparency", but then we suppose that depends on exactly how one might wish to define the word transparency.

He reiterated comments made by the search biz last week about Google users' continued right to have "choice and control".

Chavez, who before joining the ad giant worked on - among other things - internet censorship and privacy for Republican Senator John McCain, went on to list the variety of privacy tools made available to punters with Google accounts.

The Google counsel skirted over the fact that users have to proactively opt out of being tracked around the internet by Mountain View - an opportunity presented when they log into Google+ and other products the company has knitted together.

He did say that "the privacy policy changes don't affect our users' existing privacy settings. If a user has already used our privacy tools to opt out of personalised search or ads, for example, she will remain opted out".

No more data will be collected by Google than is currently the case, Chavez said. Nor will any "personally identifiable information" be sold on.

"Our updated privacy policy simply makes it clear that we use data to refine and improve our users’ experiences on Google – whichever services they use. This is something we have already done for a long time for many of our products."

He used examples of how a user could keep Google services separate from one another. A Gmail user doesn't have to use Google+, Chavez said, without pointing out that all new signups to the email service are automatically logged into its social network by default.

A user can have different accounts, too, said Google's policy wonk. A surprising comment given how keen the company wants to be the online identity shepherd.

One of the changes to Google's privacy policy will see the company being able to pepper YouTube with relevant search results for individual users. We think this means Google has finally found a way to make money from the video-sharing website it bought in 2007 for $1.65bn.

On other plans for sharing data across its products, Google declined to comment, preferring to tell the members of Congress that it had nothing else to announce at this time. ®

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