Google privacy changes 'in breach of EU law'

 
People sit on a sofa in front of a Google logo The new privacy policy is rolling out around the world on 1 March

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Changes made by Google to its privacy policy are in breach of European law, the EU's justice commissioner has said.

Viviane Reding told the BBC that authorities found that "transparency rules have not been applied".

The policy change, implemented on Thursday, means private data collected by one Google service can be shared with its other platforms including YouTube, Gmail and Blogger.

Google said it believed the new policy complied with EU law.

"We are confident that our new simple, clear and transparent privacy policy respects all European data protection laws and principles," it said in a statement.

It said the new set-up would enable it to tailor search results more effectively, as well as offer better targeted advertising to users.

It went ahead with the changes despite warnings from the EU earlier this week.

Data regulators in France had cast doubt on the legality of the move and launched a Europe-wide investigation.

Deleting your Google browsing history

Step 1: Login to your Google account and visit the Google history page.
Step 2: You will see a list of sites you have visited. Click on the button "Remove all web history".
Step 3: You will be asked if you are sure you want to remove your history. Click OK.
Step 4: You will then be told your history is "paused" and is currently empty.
Step 5: Visit Google's privacy tools page to change further privacy settings.

More than 60 sets of guidelines for its individual Google-owned sites were merged into a single policy for all of its services.

It means browsing data and web history, which is gathered when a user is signed in with a Google account, can be shared across all of the websites.

Linked activity

Google's business model - the selling of ads targeted on individual user behaviour - relies on collecting browsing information from its visitors.

Until Thursday, different services did not share this information.

This meant a search on, for example, YouTube, would not affect the results or advertising you would encounter on another Google site such as Gmail.

The new agreement, which users cannot opt out of unless they stop using Google's services, will mean activity on all of the company's sites will be linked.

Logging out of Google's services will reduce the amount of data stored by the company, although - like many other sites - it will still store anonymous data about web activity.

France's privacy watchdog CNIL wrote to Google earlier this week, urging a "pause" in rolling out the revised policy.

Debate: Is privacy row a "storm in a teacup"?

"The CNIL and EU data authorities are deeply concerned about the combination of personal data across services," the regulator wrote.

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

The regulator said it would send Google questions on the changes by mid-March. On Thursday, Ms Reding told BBC Radio 4's World At One that conclusions from initial investigations had left CNIL "deeply concerned".

'Strong as ever'

Earlier, Google's global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer said he was happy to answer any concerns CNIL had.

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

Start Quote

Google is putting advertisers' interests before user privacy”

End Quote Nick Pickles Big Brother Watch

The company rejected the regulator's request to hold off on making the changes. Users are being moved on to the new single policy shortly after midnight on 1 March, local time.

Many websites and blogs in the technology community have given guidance for users concerned about how their browsing history will be used.

They suggest users can access, and delete, their browsing and search history on the site by logging in to google.com/history.

A similar page for YouTube viewing and search history can also be accessed.

Users can see which Google services hold data about them by viewing their dashboard.

'Advertiser interests'

In preparation for the policy change, Google displayed prominent messages notifying visitors about the plans. A dedicated section was set up to provide more details.

However, campaign group Big Brother Watch has argued that not enough has been done to ensure people are fully aware of the alterations.

WPP's chief executive, Sir Martin Sorrell, says consumers need simple ways to opt out of targeted marketing

A poll of more than 2,000 people conducted by the group in conjunction with YouGov suggested 47% of Google users in the UK were not aware policy changes were taking place.

Only 12% of British Google users, Big Brother Watch said, had read the new agreement.

The group's director Nick Pickles said: "If people don't understand what is happening to their personal information, how can they make an informed choice about using a service?

"Google is putting advertisers' interests before user privacy and should not be rushing ahead before the public understand what the changes will mean."

 

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  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 172.

    I have no objection to advertising being targeted at me on the basis of my use of Google products. But I don't particularly want to buy a skateboarding dog from you-tube, or a funeral because I had a lot of email from a friend whose relative just died, or a camera battery because I searched for one for my father. You need to be able to modify what is being targeted at you for it to be worth a bean

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 168.

    I object to my search information being collected and/or used to tune my "Google Experience", so I will be using other engines, video players and email providers. No other options available. I have tried contacting Google to register my displeasure this morning - Ever tried it? Its impossible. Google do not speak to the public on the phone and make complaints online impossible. Bye Google!

  • rate this
    +34

    Comment number 164.

    Personally I find these practises very unobtrusive and they essentially pay for a whole bunch of free services which I enjoy - Search, YouTube, Maps, Streetview etc.

    Actually I find the idea that advertising is tailored to me preferable to sitting through half-time ads during football and being bombarded with beer and fast-food ads because that's what the 'football-watching demographic' like.

  • rate this
    -12

    Comment number 114.

    What stupidity is this?

    As soon as you type into your computer, click anything, look at a page, talk through VOIP, or talk on a telephone, (mobile or fixed), those who want to can spy on you.

    Surely it makes better sense to permit this data sharing from public places to ensure everyone is aware of the public nature of communications?

    It makes better sense to me than living in a fools paradise!

  • rate this
    +41

    Comment number 109.

    I disagree with quite a few EU laws, I can't do anything about that.
    I do have a choice over whether i use google or not though.

 

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