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FTC: Google offers 'brutal choice' on privacy policies

The chairman of the Federal Trade Commission said on Sunday that Google was giving consumers a "binary and somewhat brutal" choice on whether they want to go along with the changes to the company's privacy policies set to go into effect next week.

Jon Leibowitz was asked by Tech Daily Dose during an appearance on C-Span's Newsmakers show whether he is personally concerned about the changes Google is making to its privacy policies. The company announced last month that it was consolidating more than 60 privacy policies and that it would begin tracking consumers as they move from one Google service to another.

"Other than saying that they have been clear, and that it's a fairly binary and somewhat brutal choice that they are giving consumers, I think I can't say much more," Leibowitz said. "But we're aware."

Leibowitz urged companies to provide more understandable and clear privacy policies that would allow consumers to make a choice on whether they want to continue to visit a website or use an online service offered by those companies.

"If companies gave clearer disclosures and, again some companies do give pretty clear disclosures, and Google in what it is doing is giving clear disclosure, I think consumers will be able to make a choice," he said. "And maybe, by the way, you have competition over privacy policies, which would be a good thing."

Privacy advocates, lawmakers and a group of state attorneys general, however, have criticized Google for not offering consumers a clear way to "opt out" of being tracked as they move from one Google service to another.

Google has defended its privacy changes by saying it is not collecting any new information and that it offers consumers many tools to control the level of privacy they want.

The FTC reached a privacy settlement with Google last year over allegations the company deceived consumers by automatically signing up its Gmail users for its now-defunct social networking service Buzz. Privacy groups have argued that Google's changes to its privacy practices, which are set to go into effect on Thursday, violate that FTC settlement.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a lawsuit against the FTC earlier this month to require the commission to enforce its settlement with Google. A judge dismissed the lawsuit on Friday but EPIC said it plans to appeal the decision.

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// July 23