Google's privacy policy cornered by European Commission and Congress

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Continuing the story we posted earlier this week, the European Commission has asked Google to hold off on rolling out their new privacy policy. The EC is assigning French data protection authority, CNIL, to work with Google and explore the repercussions of Google's upcoming unified privacy policy.

"We wish to check the possible consequences for the protection of the personal data of these citizens in a coordinated procedure. We have therefore asked the French data protection authority, the CNIL, to take the lead. The CNIL has kindly accepted this task and will be your point of contact for the data protection authorities in the EU."

Source: ec.europa.eu (PDF)

In addition to harsher scrutiny from Europe, some members of the U.S. Congress were left wholly unsatisfied with Google's responses during a Congressional hearing on Thursday. Reportedly, the chairwoman of the subcommittee investigating the matter, Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), stated that she uses Gmail but is considering moving to another email service as a result of the privacy policy changes.

"At the end of the day, I don't think their answers to us were very forthcoming," Mack said, following the hearing. "By being more simple,[Google's privacy policy] is actually more complicated".

Google happens to feel differently though. The company has had to explain to both the public and Congress that the goal of the new policy is to simplify privacy concerns, replacing over 60 separate policies with a single document that spans the Googleverse -- a document that is also now in (mostly) plain English.

  • You still have choice and control. You don’t need to log in to use many of our services, including Search, Maps and YouTube. If you are logged in, you can still edit or turn off your Search history, switch Gmail chat to “off the record,” control the way Google tailors ads to your interests, use Incognito mode on Chrome, or use any of the other privacy tools we offer.
  • We’re not collecting more data about you. Our new policy simply makes it clear that we use data to refine and improve your experience on Google — whichever products or services you use. This is something we have already been doing for a long time.
  • We’re making things simpler and we’re trying to be upfront about it. Period.
  • You can use as much or as little of Google as you want. For example, you can have a Google Account and choose to use Gmail, but not use Google+. Or you could keep your data separate with different accounts -- for example, one for YouTube and another for Gmail.

Source: Google Public Policy Blog

As some journalists and bloggers have pointed out, the wording may have changed, but little else has. Although some people seem up in arms over Google's intention to share user information across other Google services, the company has actually always been able to do exactly that.

Google has not said whether or not it will delay rolling out its new privacy policy for Congress or the EC. However, a spokesman for the company said, "Privacy is an important issue, and we're happy to discuss our updated Privacy Policy with Congress." 

In response to the EC, a spokesperson also said that Google will be happy to speak to any data protection authority members who may have questions.

Google's new privacy policy is slated to take effect on March 1, 2012.


This video was "leaked" earlier this year during an Office 365 conference

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