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Google faces backlash over privacy changes

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Google’s announcement that it is sharing more user data across its services has already raised the hackles of privacy advocates, technology writers and caught the attention of at least one national data-protection agency.

On Tuesday, the search giant announced that it was placing 60 of its Web services under a unified privacy policy that would allow the company to share data between any of those services. (Google Books, Google Wallet and Google Chrome are excluded due to different regulatory and technical issues.) Any user with a Google account — used to sign in to services such as Gmail, YouTube and personalized search — must agree to the policy. Users who don’t want to have their data shared have the option to close their accounts with Google.

Google senior vice president Rachel Whetstone points out that you don’t have to close your Google accounts — you can use some of their services without signing in, including Maps, search and YouTube.

FAQ: What exactly are the changes Google is making and how will they affect me?

Some praised the company for being so open about the changes, including European Commissioner for Justice Vivian Reding. Reding, vice president of the EC, is the continent’s leading advocate for laws on Internet privacy and data protection, and said Google’s move was a step in the right direction.

“Google was quick. Even before the Commission decided on the new European law, Google made the first step in the direction of new privacy rules. I can only applaud the direction," she said in a statement.

But not having the right to choose what information is shared between services is the source of a great deal of criticism. In remarks to The Washington Post’s Cecilia Kang, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said that he thinks it is “imperative” that users have control over what information they want to have shared between the services Google offers.

Others saw the decision as a sign that there’s been a shift in the company culture at Google. Danny Sullivan, a technology blogger and expert in search, said that the change is just a logical step in Google’s move toward becoming a Web portal.

“It’s similar to how you sign up for Facebook, rather than individual products within Facebook,” he said.

That change, however, isn’t sitting well with parts of the Web community. Google competitors such as Twitter had already pointed out that Google’s integration of information from its social networking site, Google+, into its search results was a sign that the company was moving away from neutral search. These changes appear to take that shift even further. Search engine blogger Danny Sullivan said that Gizmodo’s Mat Honan took the bull by the horns, churning out a piece Thursday night headlined, “Google’s Broken promise: The End of ‘Don’t Be Evil.’ ”

“Google built its reputation, and its multibillion-dollar business, on the promise of its ‘don’t be evil’ philosophy,” Honan wrote. “And now it’s pulling the stakes out, collapsing it. It gives you a few weeks to pull your data out, using its data-liberation service, but if you want to use Google services, you have to agree to these rules.”

At least one regulatory body, Ireland’s data-protection agency, has said it will be looking into the “implications of the changes now that they are launched to users,” Bloomberg reported. Under sweeping new privacy rules proposed for Europe on Wednesday, the Irish agency would become the EU’s “one-stop shop” on Google privacy regulation because Dublin is the site of the search giant’s European operations.

Related stories:

Google announces privacy changes across products; users can’t opt out

FAQ: Google’s new privacy policy

Twitter, Facebook, MySpace cry foul on Google search

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