Google: Change your privacy policy now, says data watchdog

Google's updated privacy policy doesn't give users enough information, says the Information Commissioner's Office.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

The UK's privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), has told Google to change its privacy policy by September because it doesn't give UK users of its services enough information about how their information will be used.

The ICO has written to Google about the update of the company's privacy policy, saying that it raises "serious questions about its compliance with the UK Data Protection Act".

"In particular, we believe that the updated policy does not provide sufficient information to enable UK users of Google's services to understand how their data will be used across all of the company's products," the watchdog said.

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"Google must now amend their privacy policy to make it more informative for individual service users. Failure to take the necessary action to improve the policies compliance with the Data Protection Act by 20 September will leave the company open to the possibility of formal enforcement action."

The ICO's enforcement powers range from simply issuing orders, known as "undertakings", to force organisations to improve their data protection compliance, all the way up to fines of £500,000 for serious breaches of the Data Protection Act.

Similar moves have been made by other European data protection authorities including those in Spain, France and Italy after Google created the new privacy policy. 

Google's updated privacy policy came into effect in March 2012, combining more than 60 separate privacy policies. This means data collected via one Google service — such as Gmail, YouTube, or its search engine — could be used across all platforms. The company said the move should result in better products, a better user experience, and more targeted adverts.

However, users are unable to opt out of the new policies if they wish to continue using Google products, and critics said it could results in a loss of online privacy. 

In a statement to ZDNet, Google said: "Our privacy policy respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services. We have engaged fully with the authorities involved throughout this process, and we'll continue to do so."

However, the company did not say whether it was planning to change its policy before the deadline.

Google has been fighting a number of privacy battles recently. Last month the ICO told the search giant it must delete all Wi-Fi payload data collected by its Street View cars in the UK, while its Google Glass experimental wearable computing device is also causing some privacy concerns.

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