Google Rankles Regulators, Advocates Anew With Privacy Policies

Google Inc.’s plan to make privacy policies “simpler” unleashed a fresh wave of criticism from regulators and consumer advocates that the company isn’t doing enough to protect information it compiles about users.

The company said in a blog post yesterday that it will create a uniform set of privacy guidelines for more than 60 products. Google also said it will reduce the number of so-called terms of service, the conditions to which users agree when accessing Google products, and make them easier to read.

Data-protection agencies in Ireland and France said they would assess the implications of the push. At least one consumer-advocacy group fretted that the policy -- which makes it easier for Google to target advertisements to specific groups -- might tie users’ hands and make it harder for them to limit what the company can do with their information.

“This announcement is pretty frustrating and potentially frightening from a kids and family and teenager standpoint and an overall consumer privacy standpoint,” said James Steyer, chief executive officer of San Francisco-based Common Sense Media.

Regulators took umbrage when Google unveiled changes to its search engine earlier this month, making user information from its social-networking service available in search results. Rivals such as Twitter Inc. said the shift would favor a Google product -- namely, Google+ -- over other information on the Web.

Broader Probe

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission expanded its antitrust probe of Google to include scrutiny of Google+, two people familiar with the matter said this month.

Google’s push to unify its products and better target users is part of a larger strategy to vie with such rivals as Facebook Inc. for advertising dollars.

“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,” Alma Whitten, director of privacy, product and engineering, said in the blog post yesterday. “We’ll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.”

The changes will take effect on March 1. The new policy explains “what information we collect and how we use it,” Whitten said.

-- Editors: Tom Giles, Nick Turner

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