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Google sets up €4.5m academic legal institute in Berlin

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Google will fund a research centre at Humboldt University in Berlin, which from October will examine the evolution of the internet and its impact on society, science and economy.

The Berlin University of Arts, the Social Science Research Center Berlin and the Hamburg Hans-Bredow-Institute are also involved in the project at Werner Heisenberg's alma mater. Named after academic and statesman Wilhelm von Humboldt, Humboldt University numbers 40 Nobel Prize winners as alumni, including Erwin Schrödinger, Max Planck and Albert Einstein.

The institute in Berlin emphasised that the purpose of the new centre would be to explore web innovations in general, rather than to study issues specifically related to Google, but has revealed that one of the focuses of the new institute will be internet law.

Google has a particular interest in internet law. The company has clashed repeatedly with authorities over data privacy issues in several European countries. In January this year, data protection officials in Germany threatened to pursue a precedent-setting court case because its free service Google Analytics gathers detailed information about website visitors.

Google was also fined €100,000 in France because the cars used to take photographs for Street View illegally collected personal data from Wi-Fi networks. In Switzerland, Google is appealing a court ruling that obliges it to ensure all faces and vehicle licence plates are blurred and Czech privacy authorities recently also imposed new restrictions on Google Street View, including lower camera height.

Google's CEO Eric Schmidt said in a statement that the internet is still "a new frontier for much of the legal profession", and that "the law needs to catch up with the latest technologies". For this reason, the newly founded Institute for Internet and Society will initially be located at Humboldt's law faculty. It will initially employ about 10 people.

Although Google will fund the institute with €4.5m for the first three years, the research unit will be fully independent of Google. In the future, the group will look for other sponsorship, in particular from the German government and the European Union. ®

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