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Privacy Guardians Warn Google to Respect Laws

Issued: April 01 2010
Ten data protection authorities from around the world say Google and other international corporations are overlooking privacy values and legislation when they launch new online products.
Privacy commissioners from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, Israel and six other countries have issued a joint letter directing Google Inc. and other international corporations to respect the privacy rights of people around the globe.
Other countries signing the letter include Germany, France, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain.
“While we hear corporations such as Google pay lip service to privacy, we don’t always see this reflected in the launch of new products,” says Canada’s privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart.
“As part of an unprecedented collaboration, data protection authorities representing over 375 million people in 10 countries are speaking with a common voice to remind these organizations that they must comply with the privacy laws of each country where they roll out online products and services.”
The letter, expressed “deep concern” about Google’s privacy practices, particularly in relation to the recent launch of its social network, Google Buzz, said, in part: “We are increasingly concerned that, too often, the privacy rights of the world’s citizens are being forgotten as Google rolls out new technological applications. We were disturbed by your recent rollout of the Google Buzz social networking application, which betrayed a disappointing disregard for fundamental privacy norms and laws. Moreover, this was not the first time you have failed to take adequate account of privacy considerations when launching new services.”
Google Mail, or Gmail, had been a private, one-to-one web-based e-mail service, but was melded with a new social networking service. Google automatically assigned users a network of “followers” from among people with whom they corresponded most often on Gmail, without adequately informing those users about how this new service would work or providing sufficient information to permit informed consent, Canada’s privacy commissioner said in a statement.
“These actions violated the fundamental, globally accepted privacy principle that people should be able to control the use of their personal information,” the statement said. Gmail users were critical of the new service; Google and quickly introduced changes to address the criticism.
In the letter, the data protection authorities recognized that Google is not the only online company that has introduced services with inadequate protections for privacy. However, they urged Google to set an example “as a leader in the online world.”
“We therefore call on you, like all organizations entrusted with people’s personal information, to incorporate fundamental privacy principles directly into the design of new online services,” the letter said.


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