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Google Changes Home Page
New York Times

UPDATED | 7/4, 10:07 AM The word "privacy" now appears on Google's home page, with a link to the company's privacy policy.

With that one word, the Web search giant heads off the growing controversy over whether its previous practice ran afoul of a California law, the California Online Privacy Protection Act of 2003, which requires the operator of a commercial Web site that collects personal information to link to its privacy policy from its home page.

When I wrote in May that Google appears to be violating the law, Google told me that it did not believe that it was required to put a link on its home page. The company said that its privacy policy was easy enough to find, either on the page called "About Google" or by searching for "Google privacy policy" on its search engine.

Later, I spoke to Joanne McNabb, the chief of California's Office of Privacy Protection, who said that her agency believes that Google should have a link to its privacy policy on its home page. After the issue buzzed about the blogosphere, four privacy groups wrote Google urging it to change its practices.

Google announced its change of heart on both its main corporate blog and on its public policy blog. (It may be a coincidence, but the changes were made late on July 3, the day before a three-day weekend. Was that perhaps to avoid much notice?)

Both posts said, "We added this link both to our homepage and to our results page to make it easier for users to find information about our privacy principles." Neither post mentioned the California law. In the main blog post, Marissa Mayer, the Google vice president who looks after the user interface of its search engine, reiterated that the company believes in keeping its main page short. She said that Google’s two founders told her the word privacy could only be added to the home page if another word was deleted, leaving the page at 28 words. So the copyright notice at the bottom of the page was changed from "© 2008 Google" to "© 2008 - Privacy." Ms. Mayer wrote that it is implied that Google is the one copyrighting the page.

I've dropped an e-mail to Google to ask a few questions about all this, but it may not be until next week that we can get answers.


Steve Langdon, a Google spokesman, sent this in response to my question about why Google did this now:

Some users, bloggers, and regulatory bodies have asked us why we didn't have a link, and, after evaluating, we decided that it was the right time to add one. While users have always been able to easily search for and find our policy before, or click through to it, this provides an easier path to learning about our privacy approach. We've also added the same link on the results page, as many users arrive on them directly.

Mr. Langdon said he didn't know what sort of contact Google had with California officials or whether there was any discussion of legal action by the state. He said he would check and get back to me. His statement above does say that the company was approached by "regulatory bodies."

Here's a link to the new privacy page: