Updated 4:50 pm ET Tuesday, January 31
Google, in its consummate speedy fashion, has delivered the answers two-and-a-half weeks early. Google’s director of Public Policy Pablo Chavez on Tuesday posted a letter the company sent back to the House. The 13-page-letter addresses each of the House’s questions in turn and provides some fascinating detail on to how Google views its users’ data privacy, what it’s doing and not doing with user information, and what it may do going forward.
As Chavez elaborated in a post on Google’s Public Policy blog:
We’re updating our privacy policies for two reasons:
First, we’re trying to make them simpler and more understandable, which is something that lawmakers and regulators have asked technology companies to do. By folding more than 60 product-specific privacy policies into our main Google one, we’re explaining our privacy commitments to users of those products in 85% fewer words.
Second, we want to make our users’ experience seamless and easy by allowing more sharing of information among products when users are signed into their Google Accounts. In other words, we want to make more of your information available to you when you’re signed into Google services.
An example of experience Google wants to be able to provide concerns YouTube. As Google’s letter to the House notes:
For example, if a user is signed in and searching Google for cooking recipes, our current privacy policies wouldn’t let us recommend cooking videos when she visits YouTube based on her searches - even though she was signed into the same Google Account when using both Google Search and YouTube.
In fact, Google seems downright excited to be able to better personalize YouTube, in conjunction with its declared aims to have YouTube compete with cable companies as America’s preferred choice of TV, as Forbes writer Kashmir Hill noted.
But the rest of the letter Google sent to the House is intriguing for the tightrope it walks — revealing much more information about what Google is thinking on one hand, but dodging lawmakers’ specific questions on the other.
If a user maintains two separate Google Accounts - for example a work account and a personal account - Google will not use information from one account to personalize the other…
Furthermore, people can still set up multiple accounts to manage multiple identities, move data between those accounts with Data Liberation tools, and prevent information from one account from being used to personalize another account. If Jane wants to use Google Docs and keep that separate from her personal Google+ account, she may create a firstname.lastname@example.org account that she uses for Docs, and a email@example.com account that she uses for sharing on Google+.
While this “multiple identities” approach is a privacy safeguarding strategy that many users employ around the Web in the age of social networking, it is odd to see Google advocating it at the same time it is encouraging a consolidation of user identity across its products.
More to the point, having two Google accounts is somewhat impractical: Users have to either use one account per browser, or go into Google’s Account Settings and under Security, actively select “Multiple sign-in.”
Markey goes on to note that: “It still appears that consumers will not be able to completely opt-out of data collection and information sharing among Google’s services.” In addition, Markey calls upon Google to meet with him.