Privacy advocates praise Google's new link

Company's decision to add a link to its home page that leads to its Privacy Center is enough to quell a controversy.

Updated at 12:35 p.m. and 3:50 p.m.: Comments from privacy advocates have been added.

Google apparently decided to keep it clean, in more ways than one.

The company has made a minor change to its home page, adding a link to its copyright line that leads to its Privacy Center. Google's decision, noted Thursday afternoon in a corporate blog and a public policy blog, was an attempt to quell a controversy over the posting of its privacy policy.

The attempt succeeded.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said Saturday that his group is "pleased" with the decision.

"This was not only required by California law (and Google is a California corporation) but is also the standard practice for commercial Web sites," he said in an e-mail.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center had joined with the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and the World Privacy Forum in leading the effort to press Google to make the change.

Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, also welcomed Google's decision.

"Although privacy policies are not a guarantee of perfect privacy practices, they are still an important tool for consumers," she said Saturday in an e-mail. Dixon added that such links are "something consumers have come to expect, and rightly so given that it is a standard practice."

The timing of Google's announcement--the afternoon before a long holiday weekend--may have appeared suspicious to some. But Rotenberg noted that his group "helped draw attention to the 30-day time limit in the California law following notice. We literally counted to 30 after sending the letter. Day 31 arrived and Google posted the link."


Saul Hansell, a reporter with The New York Times, first brought the issue to light in May when he asked whether the company was violating California law by not posting a link to its privacy policy on its home page.

Privacy advocates soon got involved, sending Google a formal letter on June 3 (PDF). Google had maintained that it was doing nothing unlawful.

Being a holiday weekend, reaction to Google's change has been a bit sparse. At least one member of the blogosphere asserts that the link doesn't resolve the issue because it doesn't link directly to the privacy policy. Another concludes that the whole controversy was silly to begin with.

Google competitors Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL, and, by the way, all provide links to their privacy policies on their home pages.

A couple of side notes: Google Vice President Marissa Mayer noted in the corporate blog that Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin required the famously sparse home page to remain clean at 28 words, even with the change. Thus, the company removed the word "Google" from the copyright line and replaced it with "Privacy." Also her blog's title--"What comes next in this series? 13, 33, 53, 61, 37, 28..."--was remarkably obscure.

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