Here’s Why Google’s New Privacy Policy Has Watchdog Organizations’ Snarling

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Google’s privacy policy is under the microscope.

Consumer Watchdog and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse filed a complaint Thursday regarding the alterations Google made to its privacy policy in June. The complaint, which was made public Monday, requested that the Federal Trade Commission review the matter.

The privacy groups said the changes violate deceptive-practices law and a previous FTC order. The complaint involves Google’s June request for users to opt-in to new privacy settings that enable Google to combine browsing histories with search histories. The alteration reversed a 10-year-old policy at Google keep user data separate between its search and its DoubleClick business, the latter which aids advertisers in placing ads on third-party websites.

“This announcement intentionally misled users, who had no way to discern from the wording that Google was breaking from a nearly decade-old practice and asking them if it could link their personal information to data reflecting their behavior on as many as 80 percent of the internet’s leading websites,” the complaint stated.

The complaint continued, “A reasonable user would have been left with precisely the impression Google was seeking to leave: that the 2016 change was to their benefit and posed no risk to their privacy. In reality, the policy change marked the consummation of a deceptive path that Google had methodically charted since it first sought to acquire DoubleClick in 2007.”

Google responded in a statement obtained by the Wall Street Journal on Monday. The company said that it changed the policy “to match the way people use Google today: across many different devices,” and that “it is 100 percent optional — if users do not opt-in to these changes, their Google experience will remain unchanged.”

The FTC has received the complaint and is “closely reviewing it,” per the Journal report.

Google was harshly criticized when it acquired DoubleClick for $3.1 billion in 2007. Privacy activists were concerned that the company would combine data from users’ search histories with browsing history to create “super profiles” of consumers. At the time of the deal, Google said it would keep DoubleClick data separate from data it collected through search, maps and Gmail.

“Google is a serial privacy violator,” John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director, said in Monday’s press release. “For the last decade they pretended to care about your privacy, but amassed ever growing amounts of data about you. Remember, you’re not their customer. You are Google’s product.”

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