February 05, 2012

E.U. Presses Google to Delay Privacy Policy Changes -

E.U. Presses Google to Delay Privacy Policy Changes

BRUSSELS — European governments, supported by the top justice official in the European Union, are pressing Google to halt coming changes to its privacy policies while they investigate the implications for personal data protection.

The move is a shot across the bow for a range of companies, including Facebook, that rely on the European market of 500 million people for a hefty chunk of their business. It comes amid a new drive to make privacy protection in Europe — where people are generally more wary than Americans about surveillance by companies and governments — more coherent and efficient.

Viviane Reding, the E.U. justice commissioner, called on European authorities Friday “to ensure that E.U. law is fully complied with in Google’s new privacy policy.”

She was backing a request sent Thursday by national data protection authorities to Google, asking that the search engine company suspend its plans to change its privacy policies on March 1 while they conduct an inquiry into the implications for citizens and users.

The authorities wrote to Larry Page, the chief executive of Google, to “call for a pause in the interests of ensuring that there can be no misunderstanding about Google’s commitments to information rights of their users and E.U. citizens.”

Ms. Reding said Friday that the investigation would help give “legal certainty for citizens and businesses.”

The European action follows the announcement by Google in late January that it would combine about 60 privacy policies for separate products to create a simple system for users that also satisfied the wishes of regulators.

The changes also would mean that Google could use information shared on one Google service in other Google services for people logged into a Google account. For example, Google could guide a user who had looked for recipes using the Google search engine to relevant cooking videos the next time that person signed in to YouTube, which is also owned by Google.

The company said Friday that it was prepared to answer any questions raised by the investigation but gave no indication that it would delay the changes. Instead, it suggested that any delay instituting the new policy would harm rather than help the 350 million users it had already notified about the changes.

“As part of announcing our new privacy policy, we’ve made the largest communication to users in our history,” said Alistair Verney, a Google spokesman in Europe. “Delaying the new policy would cause significant confusion.”

The French data privacy regulator, known as CNIL, is conducting the investigation on behalf of 26 other E.U. governments. CNIL said Friday that there was no formal deadline for completing the inquiry. “Of course, we’re going to try to do it as quickly as possible,” said Gwendal Le Grand, an official at CNIL.

He said the timing would depend on how long it took investigators to sift through the changes and evaluate the implications, and on how long it took Google to respond to further questions.

The investigation is the clearest sign so far of a new drive to streamline privacy protection in Europe. That effort, led by Ms. Reding, would require national authorities to delegate a single country, most likely where a company is based, to conduct privacy investigations.

Google has opened a large office in Paris, but the company said its European headquarters were in Dublin.

Mr. Le Grand, the French official, said his agency had the power to fine companies up to €100,000, or about $132,000, for a first offense and up to €300,000 for repeat offenses.

But the fact that a member state is conducting the inquiry, rather than E.U. authorities in Brussels, illustrates how European laws remain a hodgepodge, particularly in the area of justice and home affairs.

Under a new law proposed by Ms. Reding, which still must be approved by the European Parliament and E.U. governments, member states still would lead such investigations.

Read the whole story online here: E.U. Presses Google to Delay Privacy Policy Changes -


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