EU demands response to Google's 'unlawful' privacy policy

EU demands response to Google's 'unlawful' privacy policy

Summary: Europe is demanding answers out of Google, giving it only three weeks to spill its secrets, and explain why it ignored the EU's advice and posted a new privacy policy anyway.

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France's data protection agency, the Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), has given Google three weeks to respond to questions on its "unlawful" changes to its privacy policy.

Google has until April 5 to respond to the 69 questions the watchdog sent in a letter. The answers to some of the questions [PDF] could cause further anger amongst nations and citizens alike, as well as shedding light on Google's business practice when it comes to data retention, user privacy, and service functionality.

The letter, addressed to chief executive Larry Page, asks how long data will be stored, whether a real-world identity will be matched to user data, as well as the legal justification for combining and consolidating its privacy policies.

Google's new policy simplifies the language of its legalese, but was not opt-out in any way. Users who sign in to use Google's services had to accept the terms of the new policy.

But the controversy began when it was discovered that data would flow from one service to another, such as Google Search to Gmail, its social network Google+ and video-acquisition YouTube.

Google said this would allow better search and more accurate, targeted advertising. Many are concerned that advertisers and third-parties will be able to build up an even more detailed picture of Google's users, even though the data is anonymised.

The search giant's new privacy policy came into effect on March 1, amidst criticism from a number of European data protection authorities and more, that the changes would breach privacy and data laws.

Europe's data law advisor, the Article 29 Working Party, had specifically asked that Google put its plans to merge dozens of its privacy policies into one single document out to pasture, to allow for regulators to assess the damage it could bring on ordinary European folk.

But what the European data protection authorities can do is very little. They can surely throw a fine or two around, but many data regulators cannot even impose fines.

Separately, however, Google continues to be investigated by European authorities for antitrust matters relating to its search rankings. If it's found in breach of Europe's antitrust rules, it could be fined up to 10 percent of its global annual turnover, which could amount to $3--$4 billion (€2.3--€3.1 billion).

It may not be for the right thing, but at least Google would finally get its comeuppance.

Google acknowledge it had received the CNIL letter, and said it will "respond in due course", reports sister site ZDNet UK. "We are confident that our new simple, clear and transparent privacy policy respects all European data protection laws and principles."

The company did not reply for further comment at the time of writing.

Image source: ZDNet.

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Topics: Google, Government, Government UK, Security

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9 comments
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  • these French dudes should stick to what they know best

    like making french fries and waving white flags.
    They should stay out of the high tech industry since they don't understand it and stop listening to the anti innovation thugs like Apple and M$.
    The Linux Geek
  • Google deserves no respect.

    Google is a company that deserves no respect, its using deception to line up it pockets with cash. I really hope that EU will take proper actions to discipline google. This will deter companies from abusing people's personal data.

    Imagine the picture google could assemble about a person using sophisticated algorithms by merging all the data from its various services. Google reads user emails, saves search, read google+, youtube and other documents. This is really scary.

    Google is not giving users an option to opt-out and this is unacceptable. This will create trouble for google and the fact that they choose to ignore EU advice has really irked EU regulators.
    owllnet
    • opt out?

      even if they do allow an opt out could you believe they will abide by it?
      Dr BobM
    • There IS an opt-out

      Google provides great export tools for pulling any of your data out of Google's cloud, including contacts, calendar events, pictures, YouTube videos, etc. I would contrast that to just about everybody. Hell, facebook won't even let you sync contacts on ICS to keep you from being able to import facebook contacts into Google+. People seem to have lost the distinction between successful and anti-competitive.

      You seriously think that you hadn't agreed to "merging" the data from various services before? That you weren't aware of it is only further evidence that Google did the right thing by issuing a simplified privacy policy.

      Seriously, though. What's this "opt out" BS anyway? Can I buy an Apple product but "opt out" of paying unit margin?
      tkejlboom
  • Unlawful ?

    Is there anything that the EU doesn't find "unlawful" ?
    da philster
    • Actually yes

      Some truly dreadful beers. Some of them are truly crimes against humanity. They almost make your standard American "classics" appear to be actual beer.
      ego.sum.stig
  • I am not a Google fan, but...

    I'm even less a fan of government over-regulation. As much as I dislike Google's business model, what I really wish would happen in a case like this is that they would simply say, "Ok. Fine. We'll terminate EU operations." I use the search engine, but really don't make use otherwise of Google's products. In addition, I've a pretty thorough set of filters controlling degree of access.

    Frankly, it's what Microsoft should have done back with the embedded Media Player fiasco many years ago. A great many headaches today could have been preempted if Microsoft had said, "while we'd like to do business in Europe, it's in our interest to withdraw from the EU market. Sorry, but you don't get XP."
    RaulYbarra
    • Wow, right on @ RaulYbarra!!

      Couldn't have said it better. And just to add, the same logic should have applied when the EU complained about the IE explorer BS Too. A User was already able to use a different browser, forcing MS to give a choice of other browsers during set-up was just foolish, IMHO...
      T-Wrench
  • There is an "Opt-Out": Stop using Google's services

    Really, it's funny to read the comments from all the whiny self-righteous moochers out there.

    Don't like what Google is doing? Use something else! It's not like you don't have any other choices.

    Dislike GMail? Use Yahoo Mail.
    Hate Google+? Use Facebook.
    Don't like Chrome? Use Firefox.
    Suspicious of Android? Buy an iPhone.
    Disgusted by Google Search? Use Bing.
    And on and on.

    Each of us can choose a different product from a different provider for each service we want, with the (perceived) added benefit of avoiding the "consolidated threat conspiracy" so many of you are obsessed with.

    So stop complaining and go use something else. And see if *their* privacy policies meet the simplicity and transparency standards you are so eager to apply to Google.
    chago2009