Google revises privacy policy

Company says it did so to enhance clarity; others say they don't see substantial changes.

Elinor Mills
Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
2 min read
Google has made changes to its privacy policy that appear to be more stylistic than substantial.

The updated policy, posted on Friday, now says employees, contractors and others with access to personal customer information may be fired or prosecuted if they violate confidentiality obligations, rather than merely saying employees would have access to the information on a "need to know"-only basis.

It also urges customers to read the privacy practices of Google's affiliated sites, which may be different from Google's.

The Web site includes a Privacy Policy Highlights page, a frequently asked questions page and links to additional privacy information about specific Google offerings, including Desktop, Gmail, Groups and Personalized Search.

In an e-mail, Nicole Wong, associate general counsel at Google, said the company simplified the policy so that users would better understand it.

"We regularly review our policy and update as necessary. In this case, we were pleased to learn that the EU Commission had embraced the concept of 'layered notices' for privacy policies, emphasizing simplicity and clarity," she said. "We agree with that and modified our policies in a way that we hope is both clear and easy to understand for our users."

Kevin Bankston, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that while the changes to Google's privacy policy don't seem substantive from the previous iteration, he was still concerned that the company has free reign with a lot of customer data.

"Google still logs everything you do in interaction with their services, and they can do whatever they want with it that their engineers can dream up," he said. "It doesn't change the fact that Google is amassing an enormous store of intimate data about its users."

Brad Hill, author of "Google for Dummies," said there was no cause for alarm.

"This repackaging of what amounts to a very standard privacy policy (as far as I can tell) won't assuage the fears of those threatened by Google," Hill wrote in his "Unofficial Google Weblog." "But I fail to see why Google gets disproportionate attention on this matter. I don't think Google knows more about me than Yahoo does...If Google is a threat to old-world privacy values, it is only because it is part of the Internet."

Several weeks ago, America Online revised its privacy policy and said it would not sell or rent members' home addresses anymore but would track member activity on AOL.com and Web searches to offer personalized content and targeted ads.