Google 'sneaking away citizens' privacy' says EU commissioner
Published 02/03/2012 | 08:47
GOOGLE is "sneaking" citizens' privacy away with its new policies and appears to be ignoring data protection treaties, the European commissioner of justice has said.
Warning that "we aren't playing games here", she said that the obligation to protect personal data formed a key plank of European treaties.
She said that if people gave up their privacy it should be a decision they make with all the facts made available to them and not by company acting in a "sneaking" way.
The news has prompted a privacy campaigner to sue for the £400 cost of his device. Alex Hanff, from Lancaster, England has filed a test claim at the small claims court in the hope other users of the popular Google Android mobile operating system will follow suit.
Google tore up more than 60 privacy policies on Thursday and replaced them with a single document, despite calls for it to be halted from European privacy regulators who said it was confusing and that there were “strong doubts” it was lawful.
The French regulator said in a letter to Google on behalf of several national watchdogs, including Britain’s Information Commisisioner: “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."
Mrs Reding added to The Guardian: "Any company which wants to utilise the European market of 500 million citizens - which we've made borderless, a golden opportunity - then the European rules apply."
She added that "citizens should have the possibility of buying into more extensive use of their data - but that should be their freedom to choose, not done by a sneaking way of taking the freedom away from the citizens".
She added that the data protection commissioners in the 27 EU countries had "strong doubts" that Google's changes were legal. "They are deeply concerned," she said.
She said that reforms to the 1995 privacy directive "make it crystal clear for the future that companies must ensure that their privacy policies are written in clear, everyday language, and that consumers are informed about who is using their data, and in which way, and for what purposes, so they can make an informed choice".
The 1995 directive was outdated, she said: "When it came in, the creator of Facebook was just 11 years old, and only 1 per cent of people had internet access."
The new policy allows Google to create a single profile of each account holder’s activity across dozens of services including search, Gmail, Google Maps and YouTube. It means the firm can a keep closer eye on the interests of hundreds of millions of people in order to target them with online advertising.
Google has said that users who are concerned about the impact of the changes on their privacy can opt out of some settings or not log in to their account to avoid being tracked. Some the functions of Google Android phones only work with an account however, such as the Marketplace app store, and the latest versions of the operating system prompt owners to sign up when they first turn on their device.
“They’ve basically stuck two fingers up,” he added. "Hopefully my case will open an avenue for other consumers to take similar action."
“Users can choose not to log into an Android phone with a Google Account and still use it to place phone calls, send text messages, browse the web, and use certain Google applications that do not require account authentication such as Google Maps.”
“Some Google applications such as Android Market and Gmail require authentication with a Google Account.”