Kilmartin v. Google

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin has  joined 35 other Attorneys General across the country to send a letter to Google chief executive Larry Page expressing concern about an imminent shift in the Internet giant's privacy policy.

The company is looking to link together various buckets of data users leave behind - information on which YouTube videos they're watching, what they're searching for on, etc. - to better track those who use its sprawling collection of services.

Among the chief concerns: users can't opt out. "I am deeply concerned about Google’s effort to force this major privacy change on consumers without giving them the opportunity to opt out,” says Kilmartin.  “Google has billed itself as committed to meaningful privacy choices, yet is now putting forward a policy that doesn’t give consumers the option of saying no to a privacy policy change of this magnitude."

A bipartisan group of legislators have already raised similar concerns. But Google insists there are ways around the new initiative. For instance, it primarily targets those who sign in to Google accounts - say, the gmail program - and users can do plenty on Google - say, use the search engine - without signing in. There are other privacy controls that will remain in effect, even for those who have signed in: switching to "off the record," for instance, with Google Chat.

But there's a bigger issue, here. Big Data has arrived, as a great piece in the New York Times Magazine outlined this weekend. Companies, baseball teams, and political campaigns are sorting through an increasingly rich trove of information on our shopping habits, player tendencies, and voting behaviors to market and cajole. And there is no going back.

The concerns raised about the new Google policies echo those raised about Facebook privacy policy shifts. And a little public pressure can, in some cases, force some change around the edges. But it's only around the edges.


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