Is Google living up to privacy legislation?

Google is coming under fire from members of 14 advocacy groups, who want the search engine giant to post a link to its privacy policy directly from its home page so as to assure compliance with a California privacy law.

"Google's reluctance to post a link to its privacy on its home page is alarming," contends a letter sent to Google CEO Eric Schmidt by a coalition of groups that includes the World Privacy Forum, the ACLU of Northern California, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, for example. "We urge you to comply with the California Online Privacy Protection Act and the widespread practice for commercial Web sites as soon as possible."

The five-year-old California state law requires any commercial Web site that collects personal information about users to "conspicuously post its privacy policy on its Web site."

Google officials have argued, though, that the company's privacy policy is readily accessible in other ways online, such as by typing the words "Google privacy policy" into Google's search engine, or by following an "About Google" link on Google's home page, which in turn leads to a link to Google's privacy policy.

When BetaNews tried the former approach, "Google Privacy Center" turned up at the top of the list of search results. By clicking on that link, BetaNews was able to easily access a link to the "Google Privacy Policy," a five-page document which spells out the site's overriding policy in explicit detail.

Meanwhile, also showing up in the search results were Google documents describing specific privacy policies for Google Talk, Google Toolbar, Google Calendar, and other Google features.

Using the "About Google" approach, on the other hand, BetaNews located the "About Google" link just below the search line on the home page. When we clicked on "About Google," a "Privacy Policy" link appeared in relatively small letters at the bottom of that page, just to the right of the Google trademark.

In a statement provided to BetaNews today, Google spokespersons pointed to some other methods being used to convey information about Google's privacy policies.

"We share the view that privacy information should be easy to find, and we
believe our privacy policy is readily accessible to our users. Just as
importantly, privacy information should be easy to understand," according to the statement.

"That's why, in addition to offering a Privacy Center with our privacy policy and other important information, we also created a YouTube privacy channel with videos explaining our practices and products, ran an ad campaign to draw consumers to our privacy information, posted several blogs that explain our privacy practices in detail, and posted detailed frequently asked questions to help consumers understand the complex aspects of privacy.

"Privacy policies can be complex and not consumer friendly," the statement to BetaNews continued. "To truly help consumers understand privacy, our goal is to provide accessible and useful information."

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