Google asked to add home page link to privacy policies

Coalition of advocacy groups call Google's reluctance to post the link on its homepage "alarming"

In the latest indication of the growing unease in some quarters over Google's privacy policies, a coalition of advocacy groups is asking the search company to provide a direct link to its privacy policies on its home page.

Executives from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, the World Privacy Forum, Consumer Action, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Consumer Federation of California Tuesday sent a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt expressing their concern over the company's failure to post a homepage link to its privacy policy.

In their letter, the groups called Google's reluctance to post the link on its homepage "alarming."

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which is also part of the coalition, said the letter was prompted by Google's response to a series of articles in the New York Times questioning the lack of a homepage link. In those articles, Google seemed to indicate that it didn't need to put a link to its privacy policy on its home page, and that doing so would clutter the page, Rotenberg said. The company also seemed to be saying that while there was no to its privacy policy from the homepage, the policy was easily accessible to those who wanted it.

Rotenberg called Google's stance "very bizarre" and said it appears to put the company in violation of California's Online Privacy Protection Act of 2003. One of the provisions in the act calls for companies to incorporate a prominent link to their corporate privacy on their home pages.

Google's refusal to do so also sets it apart from other popular Web sites that routinely put such links on their home pages, Rotenberg said. "It is so very straightforward. Just put the link there. Not only are they required to under California law, but just about everybody else is doing it," he said.

In a press conference this morning, Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, said that Google's addition of a simple seven-letter word to its home page would do nothing to change its aesthetics. Yet, "it makes all the difference from a privacy compliance standpoint," she said.

The California law that requires company's to post prominent home page links to their privacy policies was specifically designed to provide consumers easy, one-click access to the information, said Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum.

As a company that collects and stores a range of information, including health care data, it is important that Google comply with the law, Dixon said. "It is a very straightforward, very simple law in many ways. It is something that most businesses provide for anyhow," she said.

In an e-mailed statement, a Google spokeswoman said the company shared the view that it was important for consumers to easily find privacy policies. However, the statement gave no indication that Google has any plans to put a link on its home page.

"By simply typing 'Google privacy policy' into the Google search engine, consumers can easily find not only our privacy policy, but additional information about privacy," the statement said.

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