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Euro watchdog asks Google to HALT privacy tweak

Take a pause while French DP officers frisk you, Larry

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A European Union watchdog has written to Google boss Larry Page asking him to explain how personal data will be safeguarded when the search giant puts its revised privacy policy into effect on 1 March.

European Commissioner Viviane Reding, who last week tabled her proposed overhaul of the EU's 1995 Data Protection law, welcomed the missive sent by privacy warriors, the Article 29 Working Party.

It reads:

On behalf of the Article 29 Working Party I would like to inform you that we are aware of the upcoming change in your privacy policy.

Given the wide range of services you offer, and popularity of these services, changes in your privacy policy may affect many citizens in most or all of the EU member states.

We wish to check the possible consequences for the protection of the personal data of these citizens in a coordinated procedure. We have therefore asked the French data protection authority, the CNIL, to take the lead.

The CNIL has kindly accepted this task and will be your point of contact for the data protection authorities in the EU. In light of the above, we call for a pause in the interests of ensuring that there can be no misunderstanding about Google's commitments to information rights of their users and EU citizens, until we have completed our analysis.

The letter comes as Google continues to undergo intense scrutiny - not only from regulators probing allegations of antitrust practices on both sides of the Atlantic - but increasingly from disgruntled users of the advertising flinger's services.

Many are fed up with Google's grand plan to turn its vast online estate of products into a destination rather than a street you follow to take you to where you want to be on the internet.

Google confirmed late last month that, for example, the 350 million people worldwide who have Gmail accounts will - as of 1 March - no longer be able to use that service in isolation of other Google products they browse to online.

That's because everything about the Chocolate Factory is getting stickier.

A bunch of lawmakers in the US have already asked Google to explain what its decision to tweak its Terms of Service will mean for users of its services. And Mountain View, in turn, wrote a lengthy letter to those politicos in an effort to justify the data-swilling overhaul.

It's no wonder that EU privacy wonks are now wading in, too. Reding said on Twitter this morning: "Good that Europe's data protection authorities are ensuring @Google's new privacy policy complies with EU law."

The move comes a day after Google execs were, it is understood, grilled by US lawmakers behind closed doors on Thursday. According to The Hill, Rep. Mary Bono Mack said she was dissatisfied with Google's response to Congress.

"At the end of the day, I don't think their answers to us were very forthcoming necessarily in what this really means for the safety of our families and our children," she said.

She added: "The concern of Congress is how much active participation does a user have to do to protect their own privacy." ®

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