Markey, Barton Want Decision from FTC on Google Privacy Policy

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Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.) have officially asked the Federal Trade Commission for a decision on whether Google's new policy of treating Web browsers across its products -- Google search, G-mail, YouTube -- as a single user violates its settlement with the FCC over privacy policy issues.

In a letter to FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz, the co-chairs of the House Privacy Caucus pointed out that last year's settlement over alleged violations of Google's privacy policy included barring Google from future misrepresentations.

They said they were "interested in any actions the FTC has taken or plans to take to investigate whether Google has violated the terms its consent agreement."

Google said earlier this week it was updating its privacy policies to simplify them, as, it pointed out, regulators had called for. But part of that simpler message will be a change in its policy. "[I]f you're signed in, we may combine information you've provided from one service with information from other services. In short, we'll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience," the company said.

IT would also allow for targeted advertising across those platforms.

Markey and Barton are concerned that there is not an opt-out from that collective profile beyond not using the services. "This new policy and omission of a consumer opt-out option on a product-by-product basis raises a number of important privacy concerns," said the legislators.

They want an answer from the FTC by Feb. 21.

The FTC is currently conducting an antitrust investigation into Google's search and advertising businesses. A spokesperson confirmed the commission had received the Barton/Markey letter but would not comment on "what may or may not be in an ongoing investigation."

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