Google policies may be assessed

Wed, Jan 25, 2012, 00:00

Google, which has its European headquarters in Dublin, may have changes to its privacy policy assessed by the Data Protection Commissioner after it announced it is to combine more than 70 privacy policies for its products.

The changes take effect on March 1st.

Deputy data protection commissioner Gary Davis said today the office would be “further assessing the implications of the changes now that they are launched to users”.

Facebook, which also has its European head office in Ireland, last month agreed to overhaul its service in Europe after an in-depth audit by the commissioner’s office.

Google was targeted earlier by data protection authorities across the European Union over its Street View function, which lets users click on maps to see actual photographs of an area, taken by one of Google’s ‘Street Cars’.

“This new, simpler approach will make it easier for users to understand our privacy practices, and it reflects our desire to create a simpler, more intuitive user experience across Google by integrating our different products more closely,” said Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels.

European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding today announced an overhaul of the region's 17-year-old data protection rules to address the use of information on the internet and streamline the way data protection agencies work.

Under her plan, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner would become a ‘one-stop- shop’ for companies such as Google and Facebook who run their European operations from Ireland.

While welcoming Google's announcement, Ms Reding declined to comment on the substance of its plans before she had seen them.

Mr Davis said Google informed the Irish agency and others of the planned changes ahead of its blog posting yesterday.

The regulator “was not in a position to offer a more precise” view to Google of the privacy implications of the changes before they were put in place, he said.

“Google has a responsibility to ensure that any such changes are made abundantly clear to users,” Mr Davis said, noting the company is using several channels to make sure users read and understand the changes.

The UK Information Commissioner's Office said technology companies such as Google should “be upfront with individuals about how their information is being used” and inform users of any changes to privacy policies, according to the regulator's press officer Greg Jones.

It was important they were aware of the privacy concerns that exist when behavioural advertising is used to target particular content at individuals, Mr Jones said.

“Failure to inform users about changes may not only lead to a loss of trust in the company, but could also mean that they are failing to comply" with UK law.

Additional reporting: Bloomberg