Google to amend privacy policy, bows to government pressure

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By Larry Banks

Search giant Google has bowed to pressure from the UK Information Commissioner’s Office, and will rewrite its privacy policy to make it much easier for users to see how their personal data is collected and used.

Google strikes a deal

Under the deal, Google will also have to undergo a two-year review process, following the investigation by the UK regulator. Similar reviews are already underway in other parts of Europe, and it’s believed that Google will agree to similar privacy policy arrangements with other European regulatory bodies.

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said that Google was “too vague when describing how it uses personal data gathered from its web services and products”.

Controversial privacy policy

The ICO started investigating Google when the Mountain View firm updated its privacy policy in March 2012, as well as other data regulators which together constitute the European Article 29 Data Protection Working Party.

Google Privacy - Watchdog
The head of France’s privacy watchdog (CNIL) in 2012, when Google was ordered to fix its privacy policy.

Following the current investigation, Google has said it will make sure the privacy policy is more easily accessible to users, and also redesign some of the app and account pages so that users can get to, and understand, the privacy controls more readily.

Google has also agreed to provide “unambiguous and comprehensive information regarding data processing, including an exhaustive list of the types of data processed by Google and the purposes for which data is processed”.

Appeals dropped

There are several other stipulations which Google must adhere to, including making it clear who can collect anonymous identifiers (“an anonymous identifier that is used for the same purposes as a cookie on platforms, including certain mobile devices, where cookie technology is not available”) and how they are used. It will also need to make sure that “passive users are better informed about the processing of their data”. A passive user is someone who uses Google services but are not signed in.

Google has only until 30 June 2015 to roll out the changes, and is likely to adopt a common policy and wording across the whole of the European Union to satisfy all the regulators that had investigations open.

The company has also dropped several appeals concerning investigations by French and Spanish privacy watchdogs.

Google “pleased” the investigation is closed

“This undertaking marks a significant step forward following a long investigation and extensive dialogue” said Steve Eckersley, the ICO’s head of enforcement.

A Google spokesperson said of the decision: “We’re pleased that the ICO has decided to close its investigation. We have agreed improvements to our privacy policy and will continue to work constructively with the Commissioner and his team in the future.”

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