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Consumer Watchdog Praises EU Data Commissioners For Rebuking Google For Merged Privacy Policy

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Tue, Oct 16, 2012 at 10:58 am

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Consumer Watchdog Praises EU Data Commissioners For Rebuking Google For Merged Privacy Policy

Calls on Federal Trade Commission To Protect U.S. Consumers

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today praised the European data commissioners for rebuking Google’s unilateral merging of privacy policies and data across its various product lines and called on the Federal Trade Commission to act to protect U.S. consumers.

“Google acted in complete disregard for legitimate privacy concerns,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “I am glad that the European Union is calling out their abuses, but am disappointed that American consumers must look across the Atlantic to see privacy rights defended.  The FTC should move on this as well.”

Last January Google announced it would, effective last March 1, combine data gathered through different services that it had previously kept separate, without letting consumers agree to the new data uses. At the time Jacob Kohnstamm, chairman of the Article 29 Working Party, an association of the data commissioners from the European Union, wrote Google CEO Larry Page seeking to postpone the changes, while they studied their impact.  Google refused and implemented the changes March 1.

The French data protection authority, the CNIL, was charged by the Working Party with determining if the law was broken. Meanwhile, in the United States 36 states attorneys general also expressed concerns about the changes.

Today European data protection authorities told Google to clarify the new privacy policy and make it easier for users to opt out of it because of concerns that the Internet giant is collecting too much data and holding it for too long.

CNIL said Google would have three or four months to comply with the data authorities’ recommendations.  The company would likely face fines if they do not.

Google’s initial reaction was to stiff the regulators:

“Our new privacy policy demonstrates our long-standing commitment to protecting our users’ information and creating great products. We are confident that our privacy notices respect European law,” Peter Fleischer, global privacy counsel at Google, said in a statement.

“Google’s Orwellian response demonstrates the Internet giant’s arrogance.  Google executives believe they always know what’s best for everybody and see no need to listen to regulators,” said Simpson.  “This approach will come back to haunt them.”

CNIL outlined three main concerns about the new privacy policy:

– It’s not clear enough in explaining to users what data is collected and how it will be used.

– It’s too difficult for users to opt out of data collection and combination.

– Google doesn’t make clear how long it will retain data.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 349 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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