Data protection chief criticises Google privacy

Google received a public dressing down from Ireland’s data protection chief yesterday after the internet giant went ahead with a controversial new privacy policy, despite the requests of regulators across Europe.

Google — which has its European headquarters in Ireland — introduced the policy yesterday.

It allows the company to gather information from all its services — such as YouTube, Gmail, and its search engine — to help advertisers better target users and charge advertisers more.

The French data regulator has expressed doubts at the legality of the move, and has launched an EU-wide investigation.

Speaking at an event on online privacy yesterday, Billy Hawkes, the data protection commissioner (DPC), said: “The concerns about the changes in Google’s privacy policies, I think, are understandable.

“They basically allow Google to access information or behaviour that you would be carrying out on different Google platforms — such as YouTube, search, Gmail, and so on — and use that information to better target advertising.

“Now, we all know that is Google’s business model. You do not get charged in financial terms by Google. What you pay in turn, in fact, is your personal information. The more precise that information is in terms of identifying your interests, the more Google can charge for the advertising.”

He added: “While Google has tried, to be fair to them, to give notice of the changes, the actual information it has provided to individuals is difficult to understand and it certainly could do better in that respect.”

He also criticised the company for ignoring requests to delay the changes.

“I think it’s also unfortunate that it declined to put off the launch date in response to requests to regulators. I think Google has some work to do in how it relates to regulators.”

A Google spokesperson said: “We are confident that our new simple, clear and transparent privacy policy respects all European data protection laws and principles.”

Mr Hawkes was speaking at a briefing organised by the European Commission and the DPC to discuss proposed new commission regulations on data protection which aim to harmonise rules and strengthen individual rights.

Among the provisions is a proposal to make a data protection authority in one member state responsible for regulating a business which operates in several EU countries. This is likely to put significant additional demands on the DPC, which has a staff of just 22.

Mr Hawkes said: “We have a very successful track record here, thanks to the IDA, in attracting companies to this country.

“There is a corresponding obligation to regulate them properly and that will become more important under the new regulation with the one-stop-shop concept where we will have clear responsibility to regulate such companies for all of the EU, so I expect the Government to receive that message and to allocate the required resources.”


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