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 185.

    Alternatively, we could pay for the websites we use (just as we pay for TV, newspapers, books, magazines etc) and then there will be no need for the intervention of advertisers.

    Unfortunately the strange idea of everything for free (at point of service) on the internet is pervasive and unlikely to change any time soon for bigger players like Google, Facebook et al.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    Easy answer: DON'T give them any more inofrmation than you have to and DON'T buy products using the click-through links! Seemples.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    @162 'Bossuk'.
    Re my post 153: Firstly, I accept my mistake - yes it was UK Census 2011.

    Secondly, it is quite wrong for you to suggest that I am paranoid. Lockheed Martin (US) company have subsiduaries that are, indeed selling data collected on the UK Census via their contract.

    The contract for UK Census was awarded on price - the price was based on value of data, not UK Data Protection Law

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    What difference does this make? If you use YouTube it had its own policies in place before Google took them over. It makes perfect sense that ownership of multi owned websites can come under the umbrella of a single privacy policy. Are peope naive to think the BBC don't have a privacy policy about users with a BBC account?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    Far too many companies are pushing the laws on privacy & data to the very limits. I am happy to see the EU take a stand on how these companies impose privacy controls. It is far too common for organizations to do a "switch-a-roo" on what was agreed on signup. This latest privacy policy update is a prime example. There are people who don't want data collated over the many Google services.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    169. Vendra
    157.paulmerhaba do realise The Onion is a spoof news sites that deliberately invents stories for entertainment/reactions?

    Did you believe their story about the $8bn Abortionplex, too?
    Nah, really, your joshing with me aren't you, I was wondering why that comet never did hit earth!

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    I've used Firefox with adblock plus & NoScript for years,plus a 'revised' version of google,(100 results per page) without seeing many adverts,and recently added AdMuncher to the armoury,which means I now see none whatsoever.

    All that's seen is content actually requested,which is exactly how it should be,having never signed into google in my life.

    Only I decide what I'm going to buy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    Information Commissioner's Office (UK data protection regulator) uses cookies on its website too...

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    The solution to all of this is really quite simple. Google is just a search engine after all, nothing else. There are other search engines such as Alta Vista. Just because you use a different seaarch engine doesn't mean to say you can't use You Tube when you want, or google maps when you want. Life is all about making decisions. If you're not happy with the google policy then use an alternative.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    I'd take targeted adds for products I am interested in over cialis and dating agency adds anyday of the week, they do need to make money and they give so much in return

    I don't personally have a problem with it, the only thing I object to with google is the way the page ranking system works as it leads to tons of spam as people try to cheese it

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    there are a lot of people who do not care if they get targeted advertising - they obviously loved junk mail. The really big problem is the political control that these devices have over us. It is so easy now to be watched and NUDGED into the direction the unelected want to take us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Unsurprisingly, Google has accelerated a newer policy . Thus indeed it is crucial to meet unprecedented explosion of swapping information . Google is the World's largest firm that contributes their strategies to meet the market and to examin it. Consequently, from our vision it is very useful and proves useful to us .

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    Your PC mac-address can always be traced through your ISP router, so the only way to stay "safe" on t'interweb would be using someone else's PC in an internet cafe with fake ID a la Jason Bourne.

    People need to remember that Google, Facebook, Twitter etc are free services, just as MSN, Compuserve, Myspace etc were in the old days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    I have no objection to advertising being targeted at me on the basis of my use of Google products. But I don't particularly want to buy a skateboarding dog from you-tube, or a funeral because I had a lot of email from a friend whose relative just died, or a camera battery because I searched for one for my father. You need to be able to modify what is being targeted at you for it to be worth a bean

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    Actually you can opt out, but it is not made very consumer friendly to see but if you do take the time to read through the pages of the policy, which many won't as obviously the reporter did not either, you do have the option to opt out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    Thing is, if this bothers people too much, there is an alternative. Duck Duck Go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    157.paulmerhaba do realise The Onion is a spoof news sites that deliberately invents stories for entertainment/reactions?

    Did you believe their story about the $8bn Abortionplex, too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    I object to my search information being collected and/or used to tune my "Google Experience", so I will be using other engines, video players and email providers. No other options available. I have tried contacting Google to register my displeasure this morning - Ever tried it? Its impossible. Google do not speak to the public on the phone and make complaints online impossible. Bye Google!

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    Startpage dont keep any data on you they dont record your IP address or searches. It still uses google but its their server that submits the request not you so your IP and associated info is not recorded but you get all the google benefits of a big search engine. Its free and uses 443 for secure comms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    BBC use cookies too.


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