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Google claims its privacy protections are adequate in response to regulators' criticisms

posted 14 years ago

Google has responded to the criticisms of 10 privacy commissioners and their demands that it improve its record on the privacy protections in new product launches by saying that it is already doing enough on privacy.

Google privacy lawyers Jane Horvath and Peter Fleischer have written to the 10 commissioners to say that, contrary to their claims, it does protect the privacy of its users.

The commisisoners wrote to protest at the way in which Google launched its Buzz social networking service.

“In essence, you took Google Mail (Gmail), a private, one-to-one web-based e-mail service, and converted it into a social networking service, raising concern among users that their personal information was being disclosed,” they wrote. “Users instantly recognized the threat to their privacy and the security of their personal information, and were understandably outraged.”

“It is unacceptable to roll out a product that unilaterally renders personal information public, with the intention of repairing problems later as they arise,” it said. “Privacy cannot be sidelined in the rush to introduce new technologies to online audiences around the world.”

Horvath and Fleischer admitted that the company had made mistakes with Buzz but otherwise mounted a bullish defence of its privacy policies.

“Of course we do not get everything 100% right – that is why we acted so quickly on Google Buzz following the user feedback we received,” said their letter.”We’re also gratified that a number of you, in public statements, have expressed your satisfaction about how quickly we responded to those concerns.”

“Google is committed to ensuring that privacy is designed into our products at every stage of the  development cycle,” said the letter. “Respecting privacy is part of every Googler’s job. We also have a team of seasoned privacy professionals, including legal, policy, security and engineering experts, to help guide the development of responsible privacy policies across Google.”

The original letter to Google was organised by Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jenifer Stoddart and was signed by the UK’s Information Commissioner and the chairman of the EU committee of commissioners the Article 29 Working Party, amongst others.

It expressed concern that Google was launching new products and was likely to launch new products in the future without fully considering their privacy implications or warning users of privacy pitfalls.

“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,” said the letter. “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 has rejected that charge and insisted that it does protect users’ privacy and inform them of the use being made of their personal information.

“We are committed to being transparent with our users about the information that we collect when they use our products and services, why we collect it and how we use it to improve their experience. At Google, we have 5 privacy principles that describe how we approach privacy and user information across all of our products,” said Horvath and Fleischer.

It listed those principles as: use information to provide users with valuable products and services; develop products that reflect strong privacy standards and practices; make the collection of personal information transparent; give users meaningful choices to protect their privacy; and be a responsible steward of information.

Google has previously faced criticism from privacy activists over its policies on the retention of search engine data; its creation and expansion of the Street View photo-mapping service; and its content-specific email advertising technology.

The letter, though, did not offer any concessions or promise new actions in response to the comissioners’ concerns.

“We are already in regular contact with all of your offices, and we look forward to continue working with your offices and to benefit from your guidance in the future as we build privacy into new, innovative products for our users,” it said.

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