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    Update: Google responds to privacy policy concerns

    Last week, Google announced changes in its privacy policies that will affect users of its services, such as search, Gmail, Google+ and YouTube. Advocates and legislators questioned the changes, saying that there were privacy issues, and criticized the Internet services giant (Congress pdf; archive pdf) for not including an opt-out provision; Google said that users who objected could stop using its services and move their data elsewhere.

    Now, CNet reports that Google is responding to the criticisms in a letter (pdf) to federal lawmakers and a blog post. CNet reports:

    Google announced plans to rewrite its privacy policy last week. The revision will give the company explicit rights to “combine personal information” across the many products and services it currently offers.

    “We’re not collecting more data about you. Our new policy simply makes it clear that we use data to refine and improve your experience on Google–whichever products or services you use,” Google said at the time. “This is something we have already been doing for a long time. We’re making things simpler and we’re trying to be upfront about it. Period.”

    But several lawmakers, including Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), saw things differently. And in their letter to Google, they said that “consumers should have the ability to opt out of data collection when they are not comfortable with a company’s terms of service.”

    In today’s letter, Google responded to those charges, saying that its new privacy policy, which will be consolidated into a single document on March 1, gives users all the control they want.

    “If a user is signed in, she can still edit or turn off her search history, switch Gmail chat to “off the record,” control the way Google tailors ads to her interests using our Ads Preferences Manager, use Incognito mode on Chrome, or use any of the other privacy tools we offer.”

    In the letter to Congress, Google director of public policy Pablo Chavez, reiterated that there was no opt-out provision for combining data of Google services in which people had to log in: “If people continue to use Google services after March 1, they’ll be doing so under the updated privacy policy.” The privacy policy changes affect 60 Google services. Chavez also said that users could avoid having their data from several Google services pooled by creating different Google accounts for different services:

    Our users can use as much or as little of Google as they want. For example, a user might have a Google Account and choose to use Gmail, but not use Google+. Or she could keep her data separated with different accounts – for example, one for YouTube and another for Gmail.

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