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    Google Says It Supports Federal Privacy Law

    UPDATE: A California lawmaker has told Google that he is “prepared to push for new legislation or seek the state attorney general’s help to force the company to comply with” the California privacy law that requires Google add a link to its privacy policy to the search engine’s home page.

    Disclosure: I worked on a Federal Trade Commission complaint urging the agency to condition approval of the Google-DoubleClick merger on strong consumer privacy protections of the data gathered by Google-DoubleClick, and I am part of a coalition urging Google to follow California privacy law.

    Reuters reports that Google executives told Congressmembers that the company supports a comprehensive federal privacy law. In May, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) sent a letter (pdf) to Google asking for an explanation of its privacy practices since its merger with Internet advertising company Doubleclick. Congressman Barton is the Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a co-founder of the House Privacy Caucus. Reuters has a copy of the response Google sent, which was signed by Alan Davidson, Google’s head lobbyist.

    “Google supports the adoption of a comprehensive federal privacy law that would accomplish several goals such as building consumer trust and protections; creating a uniform framework for privacy, which would create consistent levels of privacy from one jurisdiction to another; and putting penalties in place to punish and dissuade bad actors,” the letter said. (emphasis mine)

    This sounds like Google wants a federal law that would preempt stronger state laws. When federal and state laws conflict, “preemption” allows federal to trump state law. Consumer advocates urge (pdf) that any federal laws set a floor for regulation (which allows states to create stronger laws) not a ceiling (which bars states from creating more protective laws). Google is currently criticized for refusing to follow California privacy law.

    The 2003 California Online Privacy Protection Act requires commercial Web sites to “conspicuously post its privacy policy on its Web site.” This means the policy must be “located on the homepage or first significant page after entering the Web site.” California-based Google continues to refuse to add a link to its privacy policy on its home page.

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