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Cloud Computing and Privacy Laws

The proliferation of cloud computing has given rise to increased privacy concerns. These concerns are especially grounded in Google’s new terms of service that allow the company to gather user information and data and release it to government entities upon request, without obtaining user consent. According to these new terms, as of March 1, 2012, Google has been consolidating data on users who access Google and creating a single profile that contains all of this information. Google’s new terms have caused concern with the Electronic Privacy Information Center (“EPIC”), which argues that these terms conflict with an FTC Consent Order that outlined privacy standards for all Google products and services. The order required Google to obtain users’ consent before gathering and sharing personal user information with third parties.

In response to Google’s new terms, EPIC petitioned the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) to compel Google to abide by the terms of the 2011 consent order. EPIC brought suit in the United States District Court of the District of Columbia against the FTC, urging the organization to enforce the consent order, and stop Google’s new policy of gathering and storing user information in individual profiles. The court heard EPIC v. FTC in 2012 and ruled that the court lacked the jurisdiction over the FTC to compel it to act according to EPIC’s demands. Nonetheless, the court noted that it had “serious concerns” regarding Google’s revised terms of service.

The National Association of Attorneys General sent a letter to Google on behalf of 36 states, expressing concern with Google’s intention to gather information about users from all products that utilize Google services, such as cell phones, computers, and tablets. This is especially concerning for Android smartphones, which rely heavily on Google systems and products. Users with electronic devices use various Google products, such as Gmail, YouTube, and the Google search engine, in different ways. However, according to Google’s new terms, user profiles would consolidate usage from all such products into a single profile for each user. The Attorneys General also voiced a specific complaint towards users’ inability to opt out of these new terms. According to the letter, the lack of choice poses a severe threat to individual privacy.

In fact, Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission also commented that Google’s new terms of service are in violation of European Union law, specifically the European Union Data Protection Directive. The European Union has urged Google not to implement its new terms. Throughout the European Union and in America, consumer groups have voiced their disapproval of Google’s new terms.

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