Google execs lack clarity in closed-door briefing of Congress

By Byron Acohido, USA TODAY, 3Feb2012, P1B

Google executives faced tough questions Thursday, in a meeting with members of Congress, about changes to the company’s privacy policy scheduled to go into effect March 1.

However, the search giant failed to assuage lawmakers’ privacy concerns stemming from the company’s controversial plans to step up the cross-referencing of data generated by consumers who use its popular online services, says Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., who arranged the closed-door briefing.

Pablo Chavez, Google’s public policy director, and Michael Yang, its deputy general counsel, outlined how the company supplies consumers with a number of tools to protect their privacy. Lawmakers questioned whether tools that Google makes available to help consumers control their privacy were user-friendly and effective.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, says Chavez and Yang “danced around actual details, and instead spoke in generalities, highlighting their efforts to ‘enhance the user experience’ — but at what cost?”

Bono Mack said she expects Google to proceed with its planned March 1 change.

“I don’t know that I got any more clarity than what I’ve been reading in the press,” says Bono Mack. “There’s a big concern in Congress about privacy, on both sides of the aisle.”

Public hearings on Internet privacy are planned for this spring, she says. And Google spokesman Chris Gaither says: “We’re happy to discuss our updated privacy policy with Congress.”

On Thursday, the Google officials were pressed on whether the company’s new policy enables a consumer to easily and completely delete a Gmail message or a record of a search for sensitive information, such as on a medical website.

“Consumers want to know if they hit the delete button, that something truly is deleted,” says Bono Mack.

Gaither made reference to Google’s stated privacy policy. The company aims to ” maintain our services in a manner that protects information from accidental or malicious destruction,” the policy states. “”Because of this, after you delete information from our services, we may not immediately delete residual copies from our active servers and may not remove information from our backup systems.”

He added that the new privacy policy “does not change our archiving or deletion practices.”

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone