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Timothy B. Lee

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Andrea Peterson

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government. She also delves into the societal impacts of technology access and how innovation is intertwined with cultural development.

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Posted at 11:55 AM ET, 02/28/2012

EU tells Google that privacy policy could violate laws, asks for delay


(KIMIHIRO HOSHINO - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
European regulators on Tuesday warned Google that its new privacy policy set to take effect Thursday appears to violate privacy rules, and they asked the search giant to delay the changes.

In a letter to Google chief executive Larry Page, France’s data protection agency (CNIL) officials said on behalf of European Union members that, after a preliminary review of the company’s privacy policy changes, “Google’s new policy does not meet the requirements of the European Directive on Data Protection.”

In a response to the letter, Google declined to delay the launch of the new policy and said it has been reaching out to regulators.

“Over the past month we have asked to meet with the CNIL on several occasions to answer any questions they might have, and that offer remains open,” a Google spokesman wrote in a letter to the commission. “We believe we’ve found a reasonable balance between the Working Party’s recommendations: to "streamline and simplify" our policies while providing "comprehensive information" to users.

But the spokesman said the company would go ahead with its privacy changes because it had notified more than 350 million Google users, and “to pause now would cause a great deal of confusion for users.”

The EU comments echoed similar concerns expressed last weekend by the head of the Federal Trade Commission. In an interview Sunday on C-Span’s “Newsmakers,” chairman Jon Leibowitz said of Google’s new policy: ”It’s a fairly binary and somewhat brutal choice that they are giving consumers. I think I can’t say much more. But we’re aware.”

The FTC has declined to confirm if it is investigating whether Google’s policy changes violate a privacy settlement with the agency.

On Thursday, Google will begin to combine data across its 60 services for users who are logged into a Gmail or other Google accounts. The practice will allow Google to build more complete portraits of users for behavioral ads.

The European regulators said in their letter that Google doesn’t clearly inform users of such intentions and that the firm didn’t properly brief European officials on the altered policy.

The letter, signed by France’s Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, asked Google to “pause” until regulators complete an investigation into whether the privacy policy breaks European data protection laws.

Related:

Google users unsettled by changes, but find leaving hard to do

Report: Microsoft, others complain to E.U. about Google+

By  |  11:55 AM ET, 02/28/2012

 
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