Google’s Privacy Policy to Be Assessed by Ireland, France

Google Inc., owner of the world’s most-popular search engine, may have changes to its privacy policy assessed by the Irish and French data-protection agencies.

Google said yesterday it will combine more than 70 privacy policies for some of its separate products, including Android software for mobile phones, to create a “beautifully simple, intuitive user experience.” The changes take effect on March 1.

Ireland’s data-protection agency will “be further assessing the implications of the changes now that they are launched to users,” Gary Davis, the country’s deputy data-protection commissioner, said in an e-mailed statement.

Google, based in Mountain View, California, and Facebook Inc. have their European headquarters in Ireland. Facebook, the world’s biggest social-networking site, last month agreed to overhaul its service in Europe after a probe by the country’s data-protection agency. Google was targeted earlier by data-protection authorities across the European Union over its Street View program, which lets users click on maps to see photographs of roadsides.

France’s National Commission for Computing and Civil Liberties will also examine the policies, Bertrand Pailhes, an official at the agency known as CNIL, said in a telephone interview. He said CNIL intends to reach an informal opinion that won’t be legally binding.

“This new, simpler approach will make it easier for users to understand our privacy practices, and it reflects our desire to create a simpler, more intuitive user experience across Google by integrating our different products more closely,” Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels, said in an e-mail.

EU Privacy Rules

European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding today announced an overhaul of the region’s 17-year-old data protection rules to address the use of information on the Internet and streamline the way data protection agencies work.

Under her plan, the Irish agency would become a “one-stop-shop” for companies like Google and Facebook who run their European operations from Ireland.

While welcoming Google’s announcement, Reding declined to comment on the substance of its plans before she had seen them.

Davis said Google informed the Irish agency and others of the planned changes ahead of its blog posting yesterday. The regulator “was not in a position to offer a more precise” view to Google of the privacy implications of the changes before they were put in place.

‘Clear to Users’

“Google has a responsibility to ensure that any such changes are made abundantly clear to users,” Davis said, noting the company is using several channels to make sure users read and understand the changes.

The U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office said technology companies such as Google should “be upfront with individuals about how their information is being used” and inform users of any changes to privacy policies, according to an e-mail from the regulator’s press officer Greg Jones.

“It is important” they “are aware of the privacy concerns that exist when behavioral advertising is used to target particular content at individuals,” Jones said. “Failure to inform users about changes may not only lead to a loss of trust in the company, but could also mean that they are failing to comply” with U.K. law.

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