Google Privacy Policy Claims Challenged by Watchdog

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Google's privacy policy changes have caught the attention of an independent watchdog of the federal cloud that is worried about security risks for government workers.

Image courtesy of Google
SafeGov disputes the Internet search leader's claims that the changes won't affect government workers using Google apps.

Google announced changes in its privacy policies Tuesday that it says are aimed at simplifying them. Part of that simplification includes sharing its users' data across all its services so it can be used to tailor delivery of those services, as well as advertising, to those users.

Following that announcement, SafeGov raised an alarm and called on Google not to apply the changes to workers using Google's government apps. SafeGov argued the changes created privacy and security risks for those workers.

Writing in a company blog on Thursday, Google's vice president for its enterprise business, Amit Singh, said SafeGov's concerns were unwarranted.

"As always, Google will maintain our enterprise customers' data in compliance with the confidentiality and security obligations provided to their domain," he wrote. "The new Privacy Policy does not change our contractual agreements, which have always superseded Google's privacy policy for enterprise customers."

SafeGov expert Jeff Gould, though, maintains that Singh's assurances don't jibe with what Google has posted online. "It's good that Google said that it wouldn't apply these policies to government workers, but it's hard to see if they're actually doing it in practice," he told PCWorld.

"If you read the fine print in their contract, it says the opposite of what they say," he asserted.

While he believes Google is sincere in its intention to shield government workers from the new policy changes, he said, "different parts of the organization are confused and not in touch with each other."

He explained that Google apps for government contracts state that the standard Google privacy does apply and they point to the standard policy web page, which says the policy will be replaced on March 1, the date the new privacy policy is slated to take effect.

"I'm not casting doubt on Google's sincerity," he said. "I'm sure they mean it when they say they do not intend to apply this new policy to government workers, but the reality of what's in the contract isn't in sync yet with what they've saying."

"It's something they need to clean up, and I trust they will," he added.

Since Google announced the changes in its privacy policy, it has come under fire from a number of media sources and the U.S. Congress, who believe the changes create more privacy problems than they solve.

Larry Page
In a letter sent Thursday to Google CEO Larry Page, eight representatives wrote, "Google's announcement raises questions about whether consumers can opt out of the new data sharing system either globally or on a product-by-product basis. We believe that consumers should have the ability to opt out of data collection when they are not comfortable with a company's terms of service and that the ability to exercise that choice should be simple and straightforward."

Earlier this week, Google Policy Manager Betsy Masiello defended the policy changes. "We’re making things simpler and we’re trying to be upfront about it," she wrote in a company blog. "Period."

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