eBrandz Blog

Is individual Google user’s data safe and private, EU asks

The controversy over privacy rules continues to heat up as European governments, strongly supported by the top EU top justice official, are putting pressure on Google for a pause button on privacy policy changes even as they investigate its implications for data protection of individual users. This sure will have a rub-off effect on the people and officials in the US about surveillance and data monitoring by companies.

The move is a major shot across the bow for many online sites including Facebook, which depend on the European market of close to 500 million people for a large portion of their business. Back and forth moves are coming amid a vigorous drive for making privacy protection in Europe more efficient and coherent. The E.U. justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, had already called on relevant European authorities ‘to make sure EU laws are fully complied with in the new privacy policy of Google.’

EU seeks legal certainty and compliance from Google over new policy

A request has been sent to Google by national data-protection authorities, seeking from the search engine giant suspension of its planned change in privacy policies from March 1, 2012 while they do an inquiry into its implications. They wrote to the company’s chief executive, Larry Page, to ask for a pause in the interests of making sure that there is no misunderstanding about its commitment to their users’ information rights and those of EU citizens.

Ms. Reding stated that a thorough investigation in this matter would help impart ‘legal certainty for both citizens and businesses.’ The action follows Google’s announcement, as extensively reported, that it would start combining different privacy policies for its online properties and products into a simple system for the users.

But the changes would mean it can use data shared on a particular Google service in other services for those signed 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. As it has elaborated,

“The main reason is to create a better user experience. Our approach to privacy has not changed. We continue to focus on providing transparency, control, and security to our users.”

The points that the company wants to emphasize are as follows:

  • Users will continue to have both choice and control. The major change in the new policy is for users who sign into Google Accounts. People won’t need to sign in to make use of many of its services like YouTube, Search and Maps.
  • If a user is signed in, he or she can still turn off or edit his/ her search history, delete and edit viewing history of YouTube, switch one’s chat to ‘off the record’, and also control the manner in which Google tailors ads to one’s interests using its Ads Preferences Manager. They can employ a host of other privacy tools listed at google.com/privacy/tools.
  • The policy changes do not affect existing privacy settings of users. If one has already utilized privacy tools for opting out of personalized search/ads, for instance, one will be opted out.

It remains to be seen whether EU authorities, seeking legal certainty and compliance over its new privacy policy, are satisfied with the company’s explanation.