Google Defies Regulators with Privacy Changes

Google has gone ahead with controversial changes to its privacy policies. That’s despite European officials outright stating the new rules break the law.

As we’ve previously covered, there are two main changes to Google’s data handling. Firstly, it’s combined the individual policies for all but a handful of its dozens of services into a single policy. Secondly, it’s treating all data it stores about an individual user across different services as a single file. That means, for example, that the content of your Gmail messages could influence the ads you see in YouTube.

Government privacy regulators across Europe had already expressed concern about the changes and asked Google to put the changes on hold until the legalities can be resolved. The European Union justice commissioner Viviane Reding said today that she had asked France’s data protection agency (which has shown the most hostility to the changes) to take a preliminary look.

She reports that “they have come to the conclusion… that the new rules are not in accordance with the European law, and that the transparency rules have not been applied.” The French group will now lead a full investigation into the issue, with a formal request to Google for information expected in a couple of weeks. Google has already said it’s happy to answer official questions.

What, if any sanctions, Google could face is uncertain at this stage. The European Union made proposals for tightening up privacy controls in January, but they haven’t yet taken legal effect.

A British survey found that “only” 53 percent of users were aware of the changes and 12% had read the new unified policy. Frankly I’m amazed either figure is even that high.

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