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European Union Scolds Google, May Demand Privacy Policy Changes
European Union Scolds Google, May Demand Privacy Policy Changes

By Jennifer LeClaire
October 15, 2012 11:33AM

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Earlier this year, the Article 29 Working party, a European data and privacy watchdog, asked Google to wait to roll out the privacy changes until an investigation found whether the privacy policy conflicted with any European laws. Google went forward anyway. Google has also been approached by Congress in over the same data-consolidation practices.
 


Google is under fire for its privacy policy again. This time around, European Union protection authorities are pointing to legal problems with the search engine giant's privacy policy -- and they want changes made.

Most of the countries in the European Union signed a letter to Google, according to a Reuters report. The letter comes in the wake of France's Commission National de l'Informatique's nine-month investigation.

EU regulators want Google to be more clear about its intentions and methods for combining data collected from its host of services. They also want the Internet giant to ask its users for explicit consent to combine their usage data, Reuters reports.

"Combining personal data on such a large scale creates high risks to the privacy of users," the letter said. "Internet companies should not develop privacy notices that are too complex, law oriented or excessively long."

Google Responds

Of the 27 member EU states, data protection regulators from 24 nations signed the letter. The outliers are Lithuania, Greece and Romania. The EU on Tuesday will decide if Google has breached European law by consolidating its privacy policies in March.

Earlier this year, Article 29 Working party, a European data and privacy watchdog, asked Google to wait to roll out the changes until an investigation found whether the privacy policy conflicted with any European data protection laws. Google went forward anyway. Google has also been approached by Congress in recent months over the same data-consolidation practices.

"Last week we heard from members of Congress about Google's plans to update our privacy policies by consolidating them into a single document on March 1," Google Director of Public Policy Pablo Chavez wrote in a March blog post. "Protecting people's privacy is something we think about all day across the company, and we welcome discussions about our approach. We hope this letter, in which we respond to the members' questions, clears up the confusion about these changes."

Google's Checkered Privacy Past

Google watcher and privacy policy analyst Greg Sterling said it appears the Europeans are going to ask Google to obtain explicit consent from users before being allowed to combine consumer data across platforms and properties.

"That and the finding that Google's privacy policy violated European law is obviously a blow to the company. It will be more challenging for Google to get explicit consent from European users," Sterling told us. "Google will have to do something of a sales job to win their trust and consent."

Google has a history of privacy battles under its belt and it hasn't always come out on the winning end. Last year, Google agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it used deceptive tactics and violated its own consumer privacy promises when it launched its Buzz social network in 2010. Google's settlement barred the company from future privacy misrepresentations, required it to implement a comprehensive privacy program, and called for regular, independent privacy audits for 20 years.

In April, the FTC hired an outside attorney to help it deem whether to file antitrust charges against the search-engine giant. The FTC has only turned to outside attorneys twice in the past 10 years. Google has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
 

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