European Union Protests Google's New Privacy Policy

Oct 22, 2012
Originally published on October 23, 2012 5:53 pm

Parisian dance professor Charlotte King says she needs Google for her job and life, but she doesn't trust the world's top Web search engine.

"When I'm doing some research, the day after I have some proposition of products, of stores, of places, and it's really espionage. I was spied on. I don't want that. It's unacceptable," King says.

That viewpoint resonates in Europe. The European Union says a recent change in Google's privacy policy that allows it to combine and share data collected from all of its different services is a breach of European privacy law.

Last week, the 27 separate EU regulators sent a letter to Google asking it to make its policies clearer to users. Since March, data collected by one Google service can be shared with its other platforms; Gmail can share with YouTube and vice versa.

The EU argues that Google needs to be transparent about how it's using that data and give users the choice to opt out.

"Google is operating a huge combination of data between all its services, which means wherever you go in the sort of Google environment, once data, personal data is collected on you, it can be reused by Google for any purpose," says Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, head of the French digital privacy watchdog.

Falque-Pierrotin says the EU is not against that, but says users should be aware and be able to give or withhold consent. Google said in a statement that it believes its new policy complies with EU law. The company says it will improve the user experience by better targeting advertisers and personalizing search results.

Advertisers Vs. User Privacy

But that's just the point, Falque-Pierrotin says: It puts advertisers before user privacy.

"When you're using a search engine, you want to have a sort of pure search. You don't want to be impacted by commercial analysis, commercial relationships," she says.

Manuel Diaz's firm Emakina helps European companies adjust their strategies to the digital age.

"Even the word Google has become a verb now," he says. "We are Googling a lot of things."

Diaz says Europe must adapt faster to a fast-changing world. But he admits that Google has not been very transparent about how it's using the personal data it gathers. Diaz says Europe cannot ask for different rules.

But neither should Google have different policies for different countries. He points to China, where Google has allowed its browser to be configured to help censors.

"It's not a European policy versus a U.S. policy. It's a policy for the users," Diaz says. "The world is global. It's a village for the Internet users, and we all have to agree on a global policy."

Diaz says Apple got it right with a clear-cut, global policy for its iPhones and iPads. Apps that want to gather personal data from users' mobile devices have to go through Apple and get users' permission each time. In that way, Diaz says, Apple has taken care of its users and avoided a global headache.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And finally in tech, strong words from the European Union. It's accusing Google of a breach in European privacy law. That comes after a recent change in Google's privacy policy that allows it to combine and share data collected from all of its different services. The EU says the world's top Web search engine needs to be transparent about how it's using that data and give users the choice to opt out. Eleanor Beardsley has that story.

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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Parisian dance professor Charlotte King says she needs Google for her job and life, but she doesn't trust the search engine.

CHARLOTTE KING: When I'm doing some research, the day after, I have some proposition of products, of stores, of places, and it's really espionage. I was spied on, and I don't want that. It's unacceptable.

BEARDSLEY: That viewpoint resonates in Europe. Just last week, the 27 separate EU regulators sent a letter to Google asking it to make its policies clearer to users. Since March, data collected by one Google service can be shared with its other platforms. So Gmail can share with YouTube and vice versa.

Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin is the chairman of the French digital privacy watchdog.

ISABELLE FALQUE-PIERROTIN: Google is operating a huge combination of data between all its services, which means that wherever you go in this sort of Google environment, once data, personal data is collected on you, it can be reused by Google for any purpose.

BEARDSLEY: Falque-Pierrotin says the EU is not against that, but says users should be aware and be able to give or withhold consent. Google said in a statement that it believes its new policy complies with EU law. The company says it will improve the user experience by better targeting advertisers and personalizing search results. But that's just the point, says Falque-Pierrotin, it puts advertisers before user privacy.

FALQUE-PIERROTIN: When you're using a search engine, you want to have sort of pure search. You don't want to be impacted by commercial analysis, commercial relationships.

MANUEL DIAZ: Even the word Google has become a verb now. We are Googling a lot of things.

BEARDSLEY: That's Manuel Diaz, talking about the prevalence of Google across the globe. Diaz runs a firm that helps European companies adjust their strategies to the digital age. He says Europe must adapt faster to a fast changing world, but he admits that Google has not been very transparent about how its using the personal data it gathers.

Diaz says Europe cannot ask for different rules, but neither should Google have different policies for different countries. Diaz points to China, where Google has allowed its browser to be configured to help censors.

DIAZ: It's not a European policy versus a U.S. policy. It's a policy for the users. The world is global. It's a village for the Internet users, and we all have to agree on a global policy.

BEARDSLEY: Diaz says Apple got it right with a clear-cut, global policy for its iPhones and iPads. Apps that want to gather personal data from users' mobile devices have to go through Apple and get users permission each time. In that way, says Diaz, Apple has taken care of its users and avoided a global headache. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.