Google grilled by EU as Big Brother suspicions mount

25 May 2007

The Article 29 Working Party, an independent advisory body for personal data privacy, has sent a letter to Google asking the company to justify its policy of holding its users’ internet searches and emails for up to two years.

The group, which includes the Data Protection Commissioner of Ireland, has questioned the legality of this policy in relation to European privacy laws.

Google’s privacy counsel is planning to respond to this letter before the next meeting of the Article 29 Working Party, which will be held next month.

Diarmuid Hallinan, assistant commissioner with the Data Protection Commissioner’s (DPC) office, said that although they were involved in the drafting of this letter, the response to Google wouldn’t issue from them.

He said the DPC had a good working relation with Google’s privacy office and that Google is good at making its privacy policy both comprehensive and comprehendible to the user.

Hallinan said, “People have personal responsibility to read conditions and know what they’re consenting to; it is hard to protect someone who doesn’t read what they’re signing up to.

“If they’ve already given their consent, it is difficult to assist them.”

He added that all internet services should have clear data privacy policies and that people should have full information on how it will be used and stored. “People are entitled to know,” he said.

Google details in its policy that it may collect certain kinds of information, including information you use to sign up for a Google account or service (name, address, credit card number), log information (where you log on from, browser type, date and time), affiliated sites and links to and from Google pages.

However, Google does state that it will not collect or use “information we know to be related to confidential medical information, racial or ethnic origins, political or religious beliefs or sexuality and tied to personal information”.

Now that Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, announced last week the Google has plans to create the biggest existing personal database, fears that the company is watching our every move in a Big Brother fashion are escalating.

The personal database will be built using new technology, unveiled earlier this year, which monitors everything a user does with the Google portal and builds a profile based on this data.

By Marie Boran