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European regulators want Google to make changes to privacy policy

October 16, 2012|By Jessica Guynn
  • European regulators are challenging how Google Inc. treats users' personal information.
European regulators are challenging how Google Inc. treats users'… (Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg )

In a challenge to how Google Inc. treats users’ personal information, European regulators have asked the search giant to make changes to what it discloses to users about what it does with the data and how long it keeps it.

France’s data-protection agency led the European investigation into the privacy policy that Google adopted earlier this year. It consolidated dozens of privacy policies for its various services including the video-sharing site YouTube, making it easier for Google to target advertising.

In a letter sent to Google on Tuesday, French regulators said they were concerned that Google does not make it clear enough what data it’s collecting or how it will be used and that it’s difficult for users to opt out of the data collection.

U.S. privacy watchdogs applauded the letter, which was signed by all 27 European Union countries.

“EU policymakers have drilled down beneath the veneer of Google's claim that it always places its users' privacy first. They found, as did many U.S. consumer groups, that Google's move was really designed so it could collect more data on each of its users,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

Google's global privacy counsel, Peter Fleischer, said in an emailed statement that the company is reviewing the commission's report.

“We are confident that our privacy notices respect European law,” he said.

The EU letter stops short of asking Google to roll back its privacy policy and revert to having separate privacy policies for its services. The company has several months to consider the request from regulators.

Google’s new privacy policy governs how it uses the vast amounts of personal data it collects through its search engine, email and other services. Google has said it wanted to make it easier for consumers to understand how it collects information. But the new policy also makes it easier for Google to share data about a user among its different services, such as Gmail and YouTube. Having more information about a user makes it easier to target advertising, which is how Google makes most of its money.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, even sued the Federal Trade Commission in an unusual legal maneuver to stop the privacy policy from taking effect on March. 1.

"Many, many organizations, experts and agencies were concerned when Google announced its plan to combine user data," Rotenberg said.

Google has gotten into privacy scrapes in Europe, where privacy laws are more stringent. Its highest-profile gaffe: Its Street View vehicles collected personal data from unsecured wireless networks. The company said it inadvertently collected the information.

ALSO:

Google launches ad campaign to ease privacy concerns

Google updates privacy policy to track users across all of its services

Privacy watchdog sues FTC to stop Google from rolling out its new privacy policy

Follow me on Twitter @jguynn

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