Reding: Google Privacy Policy Is Illegal

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    Google should not have pushed through its privacy policy changes in the face of conflicts with European data protection laws, according to EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding

    The European Union’s Justice Commissioner is certain Google’s new product policy privacy changes violate European laws and was irked the search giant executed the changes against the protestations of data protection authorities.

    EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding told BBC Radio Four that she believed Google’s changes violate European data laws by failing to consult consumers making the changes, among other complaints.

    Rules broken

    Reding’s comments came a few days after French data protection authority CNIL wrote a letter to Google asking the company to halt the changes, which went into effect 1 March, because the new policies appear to break rules related to how Google informs users it is using their personal data.

    Google announced its privacy policy changes on 24 January, vowing to winnow out product privacy rules from some 60 web services, such as search, YouTube and Google Maps, under one umbrella policy.

    This policy aims to treat users of those services who are signed into their Google accounts as individual users, with services under the blanket policy sharing data with each other. Google argued this would improve relevancy, and thus, quality of service to users.

    Critics contend it’s just another way for Google to create a better digital dossier on users to bolster its online ad targeting. Either way, users can go along for the ride, eschew the services covered under the blanket policy or access some services while signed out of their Google account.

    On the day the policy went into effect, Reding said she would have preferred Google halt its implementation until questions about the policy’s compliance with EU data protection rules have been resolved.

    “It is unfortunate that Google has gone ahead with the new policy before addressing the French data protection authority’s concerns,” Reding told eWEEK in a statement. “All companies that offer services to European consumers must provide their customers with clear information about their privacy policy. In Europe, consumers must be able to make informed decisions about using Internet-based services.”

    US probe

    However, Google Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer wrote in a letter to CNIL, that Google is “confident that our new simple, clear and transparent privacy policy respects all European data protection laws and principles”.

    Europe is not the only continent that is crying foul over Google’s new policies.

    Steve Pociask, president of the American Consumer Institute Centre for Citizen Research, wrote on that “[Google’s] abysmal track record on privacy demonstrates why consumers, elected officials and privacy experts are appalled by the change and by their continued indifference to privacy protections. … Unfortunately, Google has proven time and again that if left alone, the company cannot be trusted to be open and transparent with their customers.”

    California-based Google critic Consumer Watchdog called Google’s sweeping changes a “spy policy” rather than a privacy policy, an allusion to the fact that the move will help Google funnel data on users in one larger silo for targeted ads.

    “Google isn’t telling you about protecting your privacy,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project director. “Google is telling you how they will gather information about you on all its services, combine it in new ways and use the fat new digital dossiers to sell more ads.”

    The chorus of discontent extended to

    Congress. In February, US Senators met with Google Deputy General Counsel Mike Yang and Public Policy Director Pablo Chavez to discuss the planned policy changes. The Senators believed Google’s policy changes would obscure pertinent information from users.

    Last week, some three-dozen state attorneys general wrote a letter noting they were concerned with Google’s desire to have applications, such as Search, Gmail and YouTube, share user data with each other.

    Do you know Google’s secrets? To find out, take our quiz.

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