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Google stung by more privacy complaints over Buzz

Data watchdogs wade into row

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Canada's privacy chief is the latest high-profile politico to hit out at Google for its ill-considered stealth launch of Buzz in Gmail earlier this year.

The country's privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart penned a joint letter to Google's CEO Eric Schmidt in which data protection authorities from Canada, Israel, the UK, France, Spain, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Germany and the Netherlands lambasted the company for overlooking privacy values and legislation.

"We were disturbed by your recent rollout of the Google Buzz social networking application, which betrayed a disappointing disregard for fundamental privacy norms and laws," reads the letter.

It goes on to accuse Google of failing to "set a better example" and said that the privacy regulators from around the world who had signed the letter remained "extremely concerned about how a product with such significant privacy issues was launched in the first place."

The letter goes on to point out that slapping a "beta" tag on a product, which Google is famed for doing with much of its tech, did not mean the company could flagrantly brush aside "fair information principles".

"It is unacceptable to roll out a product that unilaterally renders personal information public, with the intention of repairing problems later as they arise. Privacy cannot be sidelined in the rush to introduce new technologies to online audiences around the world," it reads.

It asked Google to lead by example, in the somewhat optimistic hope that other online companies that overlook privacy rights in their products might follow suit.

The regulators want Mountain View to adopt a set of "privacy principles" that include collecting and processing only the minimum amount of personal information needed by a Google product or service, providing better disclosure to its users and creating privacy-protective default settings.

The missive is the latest in a string of privacy stings Google has suffered at the hands of lawmakers and commissioners since slotting Buzz into Gmail without any of its users' prior consent in February this year.

Last month US lawmakers called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to probe privacy complaints about Google's Buzz, following a tirade of grumbles that greeted the creepy injection of the real-time Twitterbookish tech into the ad broker's free email service.

In February high-profile public advocacy group - the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a complaint with the US FTC against Google Buzz.

The Register asked Google to comment on the latest privacy bashing from data protection authorities.

"We try very hard to be upfront about the data we collect, and how we use it, as well as to build meaningful controls into our products. Google Dashboard, the Ads Preferences Manager and our data liberation initiative are all good examples of such initiatives," said a Google spokesman.

"Of course we do not get everything 100 per cent right - that is why we acted so quickly on Buzz following the user feedback we received.

"We have discussed all these issues publicly many times before and have nothing to add to today's letter - instead we are focused on launching our new transparency tool which we are very excited about." ®

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