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Google Briefing With House Members Falls Short

Subcommittee planning hearing for spring
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Google executives have their work cut out for them in explaining how the company's new privacy policy is the right move for consumers. Even a two-hour closed-door briefing between Google executives and a bipartisan group of House members seemed to fall short of the mark.

"Today, Google carefully pointed out there are tools at the user's discretion to opt out of all sorts of things and customize their preferences. But the question Congress continues to have is whether the changes benefit Google, or benefit the consumer," said Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), chairman of the Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee.

Bono Mack and ranking member G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), who called the meeting, were two of the 10 House Energy and Commerce Committee members who met with Google's Mike Yang, the company's deputy general counsel, and Pablo Chavez, director of public policy.

Although a senior adviser characterized the meeting as "productive," the group still came away with unanswered questions. "There was a general feeling that Google's new privacy policy may not be ready for 'prime time' on March 1. Clearly, there continues to be a lot of confusion by consumers, as well as by Congress," the adviser said.

One area the lawmakers wanted more clarity on was Google's policy for deleted emails and materials. "We got no less than three different answers today and that's troubling," said Bono Mack's senior adviser.

Whether users can opt out remains a big sticking point with lawmakers. Google's answer is that users opt out when they sign out.

Bono Mack plans to follow up with another letter to Google and invite company officials to testify at the subcommittee's next privacy hearing this spring.

Other members who attended the meeting were Representatives Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Joe Barton (R-Texas), Charlie Bass (R-N.H.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.).