FTC wants Google’s privacy protections to be like government

WASHINGTON — In 2009, Google launched an ad campaign called “Search Stories.”  The Internet giant wanted to humanize its product while showing the power of its search engines.  The idea behind the commercial was simple: a blinking cursor that inputs inquiries into a search bar.  These inquiries meshed into a story such as a man falling in love in Paris or Batman discovering his identity.

While this simple ad campaign created seamless narratives, it brought to life a harsh truth: Google knows a lot about us.  Now, according to The Washington Post, Google wants to streamline what it knows about its users and “follow them as they move across the firm’s websites.”

On Jan. 24, Google announced a change in its privacy policies that allow it to track the activities of its registered users.  From its outset, lawmakers and government agencies have criticized this decision.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass. said in a statement on his website that this new policy “raises important questions about how much control Google’s users will have over their personal information.”

“While it is undetermined at this point how the policy will impact specific Google services, it is imperative that users will be able to decide whether they want their information shared across the spectrum of Google’s offerings,” he said.   “As the company continues to flesh out its plans, I look forward to evaluating the changes to ensure consumers’ privacy is protected.”

In the post 9/11 world of intelligence, questions have been raised and policies have been put in place concerning a citizen’s right to personal privacy when the government is collecting information.   While the government has systems in place to internally monitor its own privacy policies, the private sector has been left largely unregulated.

According to the Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill, that needs to change.  A Time article cites Brill as saying, “Consumers should not have to give up control over their most sensitive data as the toll to enter the information superhighway.”

At a conference on cybersecurity on Jan. 24, Brill called for more transparency in the ways companies like Google use the data that they collect.

“Companies should provide consumers with more information about what is being done with their personal information,” Brill said.  “One way of putting this principle into practice is providing consumers with access to the information about them that a company possesses.”

This idea of notification is very familiar within the Federal Government.  The Privacy Act of 1974 gives a citizen the right to know what information an agency has about him or her.  That person then has the right to correct any incorrect information.

Brill is calling on companies like Google to implement some of the same principles laid out in the Privacy Act.  This marks a shift where the federal governments sees the importance of implementing it’s own privacy policies into the private sector.

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