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Google defends new privacy policy to European agency

updated 04:50 pm EDT, Thu April 5, 2012

Offers partial response with promise of more soon

Google has in part responded to European regulators looking into the lawfulness of its new privacy policies. The company has sent a letter to France's Commission Nationale de l'Informatique (CNIL) with answers to 24 of the questions asked by the agency, which is spearheading the probe on behalf of other regulators in the 27 member Economic Union (EU). Google has promised responses to the 45 remaining unanswered questions by April 15.

Google had announced in January that it was "simplifying" the more than 60 different privacy guidelines it had in place covering its products and services and consolidating them into a single unified policy. As part of that effort, Google planned to share the personal data it collected from its individual offerings across all its solutions. A key component of the new policy was that users could not opt out of providing the data: If they wanted to use any Google product, they would have to provide the personal information.

Government officials on both sides of the Atlantic reacted immediately. European officials were concerned that Google's new unified policy lacked transparency, and it was unclear how the data would be handled and if it would be passed on to 3rd parties with or without an individual's approval.

CNIL sent a letter with its questions to Google on March 16. Google has now provided its initial response answering some of the agency's questions, promising answers to others and indicating that some of the questions specifically asked have no relevance to Google's privacy policy.

One area of expressed concern by CNIL was whether or not Google used personal information to track people either through their smartphones or by using facial recognition software on people's photos. Google has responded that it does gather location information for services including Google Maps and Google+, but that it is only on an opt-in basis. Facial recognition is used for the company's "Find My Face" feature, but it remains an option and is easily turned off at users' discretion. In its initial responses, Google did not answer any of the 21 questions raised about sharing personal data.

If CNIL does determine that Google has violated any European laws, it can either issue a reprimand and give the company a time frame in which it must rectify the problem, or it can hit Google with a fine. [via Reuters]

By Electronista Staff
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