EU Official: Google's Privacy Policy 'Raises Fears'

Google's new privacy policy, slated to take effect on Thursday,  violates a European directive requiring companies to tell people how their data will be used, a top regulator told the company this week.

"Rather than promoting transparency, the terms of the new policy and the fact that Google claims publicly that it will combine data across services raises fears about Google's actual practices," Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, chair of France's National Commission for Computing and Civil Liberties, says in a letter to Google CEO Page. "Our preliminary investigation shows that it is extremely difficult to know exactly which data is combined between which services for which purposes, even for trained privacy professionals."

She renewed a call for Google to delay the rollout of its new policy, which enables the company to combine data about signed-in users across a variety of products and services, including Gmail, Android, and YouTube. Signed-in users can't opt out of the data combination. But people can effectively opt out by signing out of the service, or using different browsers for different purposes.


Google, for its part, says it intends to move forward as planned. "To pause now would cause a great deal of confusion for users," global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer responded Tuesday in a letter to Falque-Pierrotin.

Fleischer also defends the company's explanation of its privacy policy, arguing that Google has "struggled with the conundrum" of streamlining and simplifying its policies while also giving users comprehensive information.

In the U.S., the company could still face litigation by the Federal Trade Commission. On Sunday, FTC Chair Jon Leibowitz had some choice words for the search giant's new policy, saying on C-Span's Newsmakers that it gives consumers a "binary and somewhat brutal" choice.

Meantime, the Electronic Privacy Information Center is still seeking a court order forcing the FTC to take Google to court. EPIC says that Google's new privacy violates the company's consent decree with the FTC stemming from the launch of Google Buzz.

That agreement requires Google to obtain users' opt-in consent before sharing information about them more broadly than its policy allowed when it collected the data. EPIC says that the new policy will allow advertisers to deduce more information about users than in the past.


A federal district court judge denied EPIC's request last week, but the group promptly filed an appeal. Today, the FTC asked the appellate court to dismiss EPIC's petition, arguing that courts shouldn't review agency's enforcement decisions. "This lawsuit is completely baseless," the FTC argues. "This court should summarily affirm the district court and deny EPIC’s motion."

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