Google privacy changes 'in breach of EU law'

People sit on a sofa in front of a Google logo The new privacy policy is rolling out around the world on 1 March

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Changes made by Google to its privacy policy are in breach of European law, the EU's justice commissioner has said.

Viviane Reding told the BBC that authorities found that "transparency rules have not been applied".

The policy change, implemented on Thursday, means private data collected by one Google service can be shared with its other platforms including YouTube, Gmail and Blogger.

Google said it believed the new policy complied with EU law.

"We are confident that our new simple, clear and transparent privacy policy respects all European data protection laws and principles," it said in a statement.

It said the new set-up would enable it to tailor search results more effectively, as well as offer better targeted advertising to users.

It went ahead with the changes despite warnings from the EU earlier this week.

Data regulators in France had cast doubt on the legality of the move and launched a Europe-wide investigation.

Deleting your Google browsing history

Step 1: Login to your Google account and visit the Google history page.
Step 2: You will see a list of sites you have visited. Click on the button "Remove all web history".
Step 3: You will be asked if you are sure you want to remove your history. Click OK.
Step 4: You will then be told your history is "paused" and is currently empty.
Step 5: Visit Google's privacy tools page to change further privacy settings.

More than 60 sets of guidelines for its individual Google-owned sites were merged into a single policy for all of its services.

It means browsing data and web history, which is gathered when a user is signed in with a Google account, can be shared across all of the websites.

Linked activity

Google's business model - the selling of ads targeted on individual user behaviour - relies on collecting browsing information from its visitors.

Until Thursday, different services did not share this information.

This meant a search on, for example, YouTube, would not affect the results or advertising you would encounter on another Google site such as Gmail.

The new agreement, which users cannot opt out of unless they stop using Google's services, will mean activity on all of the company's sites will be linked.

Logging out of Google's services will reduce the amount of data stored by the company, although - like many other sites - it will still store anonymous data about web activity.

France's privacy watchdog CNIL wrote to Google earlier this week, urging a "pause" in rolling out the revised policy.

Debate: Is privacy row a "storm in a teacup"?

"The CNIL and EU data authorities are deeply concerned about the combination of personal data across services," the regulator wrote.

"They have strong doubts about the lawfulness and fairness of such processing, and its compliance with European data protection legislation."

The regulator said it would send Google questions on the changes by mid-March. On Thursday, Ms Reding told BBC Radio 4's World At One that conclusions from initial investigations had left CNIL "deeply concerned".

'Strong as ever'

Earlier, Google's global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer said he was happy to answer any concerns CNIL had.

"As we've said several times over the past week, while our privacy policies will change on 1st March, our commitment to our privacy principles is as strong as ever," Mr Fleischer wrote in a blog post.

Start Quote

Google is putting advertisers' interests before user privacy”

End Quote Nick Pickles Big Brother Watch

The company rejected the regulator's request to hold off on making the changes. Users are being moved on to the new single policy shortly after midnight on 1 March, local time.

Many websites and blogs in the technology community have given guidance for users concerned about how their browsing history will be used.

They suggest users can access, and delete, their browsing and search history on the site by logging in to

A similar page for YouTube viewing and search history can also be accessed.

Users can see which Google services hold data about them by viewing their dashboard.

'Advertiser interests'

In preparation for the policy change, Google displayed prominent messages notifying visitors about the plans. A dedicated section was set up to provide more details.

However, campaign group Big Brother Watch has argued that not enough has been done to ensure people are fully aware of the alterations.

WPP's chief executive, Sir Martin Sorrell, says consumers need simple ways to opt out of targeted marketing

A poll of more than 2,000 people conducted by the group in conjunction with YouGov suggested 47% of Google users in the UK were not aware policy changes were taking place.

Only 12% of British Google users, Big Brother Watch said, had read the new agreement.

The group's director Nick Pickles said: "If people don't understand what is happening to their personal information, how can they make an informed choice about using a service?

"Google is putting advertisers' interests before user privacy and should not be rushing ahead before the public understand what the changes will mean."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    Why can't the presenters actually listen to what their guests are saying, especially Sian is it? Google do NOT sell your data to anyone, companies pay for their ads to appear on Google, Google uses data collected on you to target ads at you by their "computer". If you don't like it opt out in your account, or just log out, you don't need to delete your account.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    Personally I find these practises very unobtrusive and they essentially pay for a whole bunch of free services which I enjoy - Search, YouTube, Maps, Streetview etc.

    Actually I find the idea that advertising is tailored to me preferable to sitting through half-time ads during football and being bombarded with beer and fast-food ads because that's what the 'football-watching demographic' like.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    The practice of sharing search data from one site to another has been going on for years online, this isn't new. Although recently outlawed, tracking cookies are still rife. At least Google are up front (as you'd expect for a company who's motto is "Don't be evil"). By the way, you can turn Google's search history recording off if you're that way inclined.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    @ 153.coram-populo-2010

    Firstly, i think you mean the 2011 census, not 2010.
    And at no point was the data ever actually in the hands of the company who devised it (Lockheed Martin).
    And a US company working in the UK is still subject to Uk and EU laws, so even if they could see the data, they were not allowed to do anything with it.

    Paranoid claims like this don't help anyone!

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    Seriously, the only difference between Google and any other search provider is that they're getting publicity for it.

    Email has to be handled by someone, as do searches and video hosting. Imho, better Google with such heavy scrutiny and awareness than some small provider with not enough publicity to attract attention... which, tbh, is everyone except Google. Bing's still a near nonentity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    "146. David Horton" wrote:

    "What annoys me is the concept of spying on me to target advertising.

    "Is there a search engine that doesn't do this?"

    Download TOR and surf through that, using the DuckDuckGo engine. I suspect your data may be harvested here in the same way albeit by the other team. Slightly better. Google can't see it.

    IMO data harvesting is good if it's shared equitably. Balance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    I have *chosen* to use Google's services and ironically, up until the recent brouhaha regarding their privacy policy, i'd have assumed all the data was centralised anyway..

    Basically; this makes their ability to secure my data better as well as "mine" the data they already had. The first part of this is good, the second part was happening already in a roundabout fashion.

    keep calm, carry on. :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    Google is in breach of data protection privacy laws. But where were the government on this? Don't forget that Google has our tax and other private information on its servers - gross negligence on HMRC's part.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    If you want to know the truth watch to this.,19753/
    Thanks to the original poster, still makes me twitter, sorry titter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    It actually makes sense and could be useful. But hey can only do this if you log in to google. If you're an anonymous user, nothing changes. It is a storm in a teacup and typical British paranoia over nothing. (Remember, all our houses were going to get robbed when they brought out googlemaps?).

    And still nobody makes you buy anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    What? No HYS on the *suggestion* that the government might *want* to dump the 50p tax rate, BBC? Surely that's just as relevant as Google? Or are your puppet masters in Whitehall pulling the strings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    146. David Horton
    "I don't like advertising at all although I know why it has to exist. What annoys me is the concept of spying on me to target advertising.
    Is there a search engine that doesn't do this?"

    For search engines: startpage or duckduckgo are the closest you can fine to google and they promise not to track you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Let's not forget the UK 2010 Census. Contract was awarded to an American company. Our information is already for sale from this company as they are not required to comply with our Data Protection Act.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    I will say this once , VPN your connection
    Don’t put your personal information online, don’t use Google or any form of so-called so social networks, they are and have always been a vast market-research enterprise with unwilling, unpaid participants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.


    If you don't like Google knowing about you, and I don't, then don't use any of their services.

    And to stop advertisers (not just Google) tracking you install the "adblock" plugin to Firefox - it really works.

    There ain't no such thing as a free lunch - and if you choose to eat it you must weigh up the cost for yourself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    We can change their policy within days if we take in concerted action. As of today Google is no longer my home page, and I'm conducting all my searches through other engines.
    I guarantee they will reverse this policy if we have enough sense and resolve to reject it. Any doubts, witness how companies fearing consumer backlash are distancing themselves from the government slave labour programme ..

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    Although I oppose all this Big Brother type behaviour, it is hard for me (or anyone else) to complain when we openly choose to use Google search facilities or email services, despite there being plenty of alternatives. My suggestion to those unhappy about this change is to either opt out of it and start using Google's competitors. Nobody is forcing us to use Google and yet we moan quickly enough!

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    To be honest, how much will this really impact your general user? We've been using these sites heavily for years and all Google is doing is making this easier to manage. I can totally understand them - in any case I rarely see adverts thanks to adblock.

    I wonder how many people who are outraged at this alleged intrusion on their privacy have Facebook accounts...

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    I dont see how the advertising on google works as a business model, i dont know anyone who even looks at the ads on the pages, furthermore if i see something being doggedly advertised, as an internet user i'm less inclined to trust the brand if its advertised online

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    I do not use social networking at all. My reason for not doing so is exactly the same reason why I will no longer be using any google products.

    I don't like advertising at all although I know why it has to exist. What annoys me is the concept of spying on me to target advertising.

    Is there a search engine that doesn't do this?


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