Feeds

Google plays cat and mouse with regulators

Privacy questioned

The Power of One Infographic

Google has faced down one European probe into what it does with people's personal information, only to be challenged with another.

Last October, privacy watchdogs in Norway, which is not part of the European Union but has identical data protection laws, asked Google to justify why it retains people's search histories for up to two years. Google refused to co-operate.

Now the Article 29 Working Party, which advises the Justice Directorate of the EC, has asked Google to bring its business practices into line with European data protection law so that it gives due respect to people's privacy.

When AOL released its search logs to researchers, some information was so specific that individual people were identified. They later sued AOL.

With the Norwegian investigation at an impasse, the A29 Working Party has effectively taken up the baton asking Google to provide a justification of its data policy.

Peter Fleischer, the Google privacy lawyer who met with Norwegians on the understanding that it would not accept their authority, has presented Google's justification for its data retention on Google's blog.

One reason was to comply with regulations including the European Data Retention Directive, which was passed in 2005 but does not have to be passed into national law until 2009.

EU member states have the scope to demand companies retain communications data for between six months and two years as an aid in terrorist and criminal investigations.

But the directive explicitly excludes the "content" of communications, under which moniker European regulators include search histories.

The directive requires phone and internet firms to retain "data necessary to trace and identify" a communication source, destination, date, time, duration, type, device and location.

Fleischer also said Google needed to keep its data stockpile in order to help it improve its services and to wheedle out fraudsters, spammers, and hackers.

But The Register understands that Google has been the cause of anxiety among members of the A29 Working Party for some years. Their members, who include representatives of national EU privacy watchdogs, are not pleased about how long it keeps information. The Norwegians were also concerned that Google might be using its data stores to create profiles of people's lives. This was one question Google refused to answer.

Leif Aanensen, deputy director general of the Norwegian Office of the Data Inspectorate, told The Register that it had effectively put its Google probe on ice after the data giant refused to accept that it came under Norwegian jurisdiction.

"We are not satisfied," he said. "We didn't get the proper answers."

"Our main issue was their data retention policy and the use of the data they stored. We asked them what they were doing with the personal data - are you creating profiles - they didn't answer," he said.

Two Norwegian search engines - Sesam and Kvasir - had also come under the scrutiny of the Norwegian regulators. The regulator has suggested in a preliminary decision that they may have to delete any connections between someone's identifying information and their search queries the moment the query is complete. At least one of them has claimed it will need up to two months to make its data anonymous. The final decision of the regulator will be published next month.

A Google spokesman refused to say whether Google had answered Norway's specific queries. He said that Google would send an answer to the A29 Working Party before its next meeting in June.

The Register understands that the A29 letter, from Peter Schaar, the group's chairman, had included some encouraging words for Google. The data giant had done much to improve its standing among privacy watchdogs, but there was still more it should do. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
Major problems beset UK ISP filth filters: But it's OK, nobody uses them
It's almost as though pr0n was actually rather popular
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
ITC: Seagate and LSI can infringe Realtek patents because Realtek isn't in the US
Land of the (get off scot) free, when it's a foreign owner
MPs wave through Blighty's 'EMERGENCY' surveillance laws
Only 49 politcos voted against DRIP bill
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.