European regulater attacks single Google privacy policyInvestigation criticises Google's data collection

18 October 2012

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An investigation into Google's one-size-fits-all privacy policy, carried out by French regulator CNIL, has recommended clearer information for consumers who may not understand the way their data is used by the search giant.

Google's single privacy policy, which covers services such as YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps and Google search, raised the heckles of privacy watchdogs by combining user data across all of these services. 

CNIL argues that Google users are not receiving sufficient explanation for the way their data can be used.

Google's single privacy policy

On 1 March this year, Google updated the 60 individual privacy policies it used to cover its various products, replacing them with a single privacy policy to govern how user data is collected across them all.

Google argued that this single policy approach was 'shorter and easier to read', as well as being a 'simple and beautiful experience' for users. 

In effect, search terms you enter into Google's search engine could influence the suggestions you receive when using YouTube, for example, as your activities across different services are tracked in a cohesive fashion, all linked to one Google account.

However, this new approach provoked an immediate backlash from privacy campaigners, who were concerned that it might breach European data collection rules. 

Google privacy policy

Google not found to be in breach of EU laws

The report by CNIL was less damning of Google's single policy than originally anticipated, and there have been no immediate calls for Google to reverse its privacy approach.

While it didn't find Google to be in breach of European data regulations, CNIL has called for improved clarity for Google users who may not understand the full implications of the single privacy policy.

Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel, defended the company's approach to privacy. 'We have received the report and are reviewing it now,' he said. 'Our new privacy policy demonstrates our long-standing commitment to protecting our users’ information and creating great products. We are confident that our privacy notices respect European law.'

Which? believes that when it comes to matters of consumer privacy online, clarity is key. 

'All companies, including the giants like Google, must be fully transparent with how they use their customers' data,' says Georgina Nelson, privacy lawyer with Which? 

'Any effort to simplify a privacy policy is welcome, but the key consideration must always be that consumers are clearly informed in a language they understand about how their data is used, and where possible, given a choice over what happens with their data online.'

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