Google Egypt downplays privacy concerns over March revamp

Ahram Online, Friday 24 Feb 2012

Next week's change in Google services has sparked worries the firm is consolidating its users' personal data. But the search company's Egypt spokeswoman denies there's a threat to privacy

Transparency is a vital component of its operations, says Google (Photo: Reuters)

Google's Egypt operations have defended controversial changes to the firm's privacy policies due to come into effect next week.

The internet search group is simplifying its privacy regulations worldwide, consolidating 60 guidelines into a single policy that will function across all services, including YouTube, Gmail and Google+, its social networking site.
From 1 March, information given by those signed into Google accounts will be treated as a single trove of data, which the company could use for targeted advertising. 
The move has raised concerns among regulators that the firm may share personal information without giving users the chance to give their prior consent, prompting legal challenges in Europe and the US.
Speaking to a group of journalists, Maha Abu El-Ayeen, manager of public relations for Google in Egypt and the Middle East, said the firm's new data collection methods were simply aimed at providing a better, more integrated service.
"It will give search results that better reflect users' interests and use their information to suggest services to suit their preferences and desires," explained Abu El-Ayeen.
She denied the change in policies posed a threat to users' privacy.
"Transparency with our users is the foundation of privacy," she said, adding that web-users would be able to alter their confidentiality settings using Google Dashboard and determine exactly how much information is shared.
Google will not disclose any of its users' personal information to companies, institutions nor individuals, she reiterated.
Since the announcement of its plans in late January, Google has been hit by a wave of complaints, both in the media and from Western politicians.
“The new Google privacy policy is, you have no privacy,’’ said Democratic US Representative Ed Markey of Malden, co-chairman of the Congressional Privacy Caucus.
At influential technology website Gizmodo, Mat Honan wrote it "means that things you could do in relative anonymity today, will be explicitly associated with your name, your face, your phone number come March 1st.
"If you use Google's services, you have to agree to this new privacy policy. It is an explicit reversal of its previous policies."
This week, Google was among six of the world's top consumer technology firms which agreed to provide greater privacy disclosures before users download applications.
The agreement binds Amazon, Apple, Google , Microsoft, Research In Motion, and Hewlett-Packard -- and developers on their platforms -- to disclose how they use private data before an app may be downloaded.
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