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Google Privacy Changes May Violate EU Law, Officials Say Google Privacy Changes May Violate EU Law, Officials Say

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Google Privacy Changes May Violate EU Law, Officials Say

February 28, 2012

After coming under fire from U.S. privacy advocates and some lawmakers, Google has been told by European Union officials that the changes it plans to make to its privacy practices may violate EU rules.

EU data privacy commissioners also urged Google to delay its changes, which are set to go into effect Thursday, until an investigation being conducted on their behalf by France's data protection authority has concluded.

"Our preliminary analysis shows that Google's new policy does not meet the requirements of the European Directive on Data Protection, especially regarding the information provided to data subjects," Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, who heads France's data protection authority, wrote in a letter to Google CEO Larry Page.

Google announced last month that it would consolidate more than 60 privacy policies and begin tracking consumers as they move from one Google service to another. U.S. privacy advocates and some lawmakers have criticized the changes, particularly the fact that Google does not offer consumers a choice to opt out.

Some privacy groups have complained to the Federal Trade Commission that the changes violate the privacy settlement the commission reached last year with Google. While the commission has not commented on these claims, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said Sunday that Google was giving consumers a "binary and somewhat brutal choice."

The EU officials particularly pointed to Google's plans to combine data it collects as users move from one Google service such as Gmail to another such as Google calendar.

"The EU data protection authorities are deeply concerned about the combination of personal data across services: They have strong doubts about the lawfulness and fairness of such processing and about its compliance with European Data protection legislation," the letter added.

Falque-Pierrotin did praise Google for launching a high-profile campaign to inform users about its changes but complained that Google did not adequately inform all the EU data commissioners first.

Google said it has asked to meet with the French data protection authority so it can answer any questions officials may have about the company's privacy changes.

"We believe we've found a reasonable balance between the [data commissioners'] recommendations: to 'streamline and simplify' our policies while providing 'comprehensive information' to users," a Google spokeswoman said. "We are committed to providing our users with a seamless experience across Google's services, and to making our privacy commitments to them easy to understand."

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