Google faces global revolt over privacy changes

Mar 1, 2012
Tim Edwards

EU investigation launched as search giant accused of breaching data protection laws

Getty Images

GOOGLE has introduced a new privacy policy to a chorus of disapproval from EU regulators and US attorneys-general. The search giant has been promoting the new terms to its users for weeks – yet it now faces the prospect of an investigation.
At issue is the way Google uses the data of its millions of customers. Previously, users signed up to a different privacy policy whenever they opened an account on one of Google's more than 60 online products. From today, all of those privacy policies have been superseded by a single new one.
Google users have two options: agree to the new terms, or close their accounts.
The effect of the change of privacy policy will be most apparent in the kind of adverts seen by users of Google products. For example, YouTube users might be served up travel ads based on an email conversation in their Gmail account regarding a holiday – or ads for a bicycle because they made a product search on Google Shopping.
Google users have been bombarded with ads over the past weeks urging them to read up on the new privacy policy, which the company says is easier to understand and will enable it to deliver more effective search results.
Despite this attempt at openness, the search giant has this week been challenged by French data regulator CNIL, which believes the new privacy policy might be illegal under EU law. The BBC reports the regulator has launched an EU-wide investigation.
In a letter to Google, the CNIL wrote: "The CNIL and EU data authorities are deeply concerned about the combination of personal data across services.

"They have strong doubts about the lawfulness and fairness of such processing, and its compliance with European data protection legislation."

With all the dynamism one might expect of a government department, the regulator says it will send Google questions on the changes by mid-March.

And it’s not just Europe where Google is facing questions. Last week, attorneys-general from 36 US states wrote to the company to challenge its commitment to consumer privacy – and the idea that users could opt out by ditching their Google accounts.
"Google's new privacy policy goes against a respect for privacy that Google has carefully cultivated as a way to attract consumers," the attorneys-general wrote. "It rings hollow to call [the ability of users] to exit the Google products ecosystem a 'choice' in an Internet economy where the clear majority of all internet users use - and frequently rely on - at least one Google product on a regular basis."

PC World notes that the AGs draw particular attention to the fact that users of Android smartphones will find it "virtually impossible" to escape the policy without buying a handset powered by a different operating system.

A Google spokesman said in a blog post: "As we've said several times over the past week, while our privacy policies will change on 1 March, our commitment to our privacy principles is as strong as ever."

Sign up for our daily newsletter