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Google answers less than half of watchdog's privacy tweak questions

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Google only partially responded to French data protection regulator CNIL late last Thursday about the company's controversial privacy policy tweak in March.

The world's largest ad broker asked for more time to answer the 69 questions put to it by the watchdog, which had been tasked with investigating the company's actions by the EU's independent advisory group the Article 29 Working Party.

However, Google said it was unable to respond in time. Instead the search giant submitted answers to just 24 of those questions on 5 April.

It is expected to complete answers to the remaining 45 questions within the next few days.

In a letter accompanying those 24 responses, Google's global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer defended his firm's decision to ignore requests from data protection authorities in Europe who had asked the Chocolate Factory to halt its terms of service changes.

"The use of a primary privacy policy that covers many products and enables the sharing of data between them is an industry standard approach adopted by companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo! and Apple," Fleischer countered.

He claimed that Google had "reached out" to 18 DPAs in Europe ahead of the company going public with its plans to tweak its privacy policy.

Fleischer described that move as being "on the whole... a constructive process." The Google lawyer added that none of those DPAs asked the company to "pause" the launch of Mountain View's rejigged terms of service immediately after those "pre-briefings".

In the same missive, Fleischer claimed to have been unhappy with the actions of some watchdogs who hadn't met up with him prior to Google announcing its privacy policy tweak.

"We find it disappointing that some regulators publicly express doubts of lawfulness without having accorded us any chance to engage on the issues of concern," he said.

Fleischer also fired a few questions back at CNIL, asking – among other things – what the "legal basis" was for the Article 29 Working Party to "act as a regulatory body".

The Google privacy lawyer urged members of the Working Party, which is vice-chaired by the UK's information commissioner Christopher Graham, to "in the spirit of fairness... be heard at a plenary session".

Meanwhile, Google struggled to provide full answers to many of the 24 questions it did respond to last week.

For example, the company was unwilling to say exactly how many users of its services and products had moaned about the privacy policy changes, instead preferring to say that "complaints from our users appear to have been minimal."

Likewise, Google was unable to cough up the "metric" detailing the number of unique visitors to the firm's privacy policy website, which was heavily trialed on many Google properties in the run-up to the changes that were implemented on 1 March.

Separately, Google offered The Register this statement about its beef with European DPAs:

“Our new Privacy Policy is an important part of our layered approach to providing users with clear and comprehensive information about how we use data, and it is supplemented by additional privacy information to our users in places where they expect to find it," a Mountain View spokesman said.

"We are confident that our privacy notices respect the requirements of European data protection laws.”

Dutch data protection chief Jacob Kohnstamm didn't take kindly to Fleischer's comments regarding some DPAs failing to meet for pre-briefings on Google's terms of service changes.

He told Reuters that it was not up to him to get together for "a cup of tea and a chat" regarding such matters. "I am not going to give advice to Google and do so on taxpayers' money," he thundered. ®

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