“As a search engine giant, Google has a responsibility to protect the privacy of its users,” the eight lawmakers wrote Google CEO Larry Page. “Therefore, we are writing to learn why Google feels that these changes are necessary, and what steps are being taken to ensure protection of consumers’ privacy rights.”
A group of House Energy and Commerce members asked Google in a letter (PDF) on Thursday to explain why it plans to start tracking users and collecting information about them across all the company’s products. The letter was signed by Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., as well as Reps. Joe Barton, R-Texas, Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., Diana DeGette, D-Colo., Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who is the only signer who doesn’t sit on Energy and Commerce.
Google, whose offerings include its flagship search product, Gmail, YouTube and Google+ products, announced on Tuesday that it was unifying 60 of its privacy policies. The company said it would “mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.”
The lawmakers said the announcement raises questions about whether consumers will have enough power to opt-out of data sharing systems. They also asked what security steps are being taken to ensure the safety of customer data.
“While Google suggests that the purpose of this shift in policy is to make the consumer experience simpler, we want to make sure it does not make protecting consumer privacy more complicated,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Google Chief Executive Larry Page.
The lawmakers also asked if Google allows users to permanently delete their personal information from its archives and if Google retains information from deleted accounts. They also asked if Google plans to offer “distinct” privacy protections for children and teens, and how users of Android smartphones will be affected.
The lawmakers ask for a response to the letter, containing about 20 questions, by February 16.