Rueters went on to quote Reding as saying the Google policy violated EU law, "In numerous respects. One is that nobody had been consulted, it is not in accordance with the law on transparency and it utilizes the data of private persons in order to hand it over to third parties, which is not what the users have agreed to." She added that, "Protection of personal data is a basic rule of the European Union. It is inscribed in the treaties. It is not an if, it is a must."
Google kind of responds
Google earlier posted a blog defending its policy by Alma Whitten, Director of Privacy, Product Engineering. It is worth reading in its totality since in the face of EU objections it instituted its new policies today. Here are a few tidbits:
If you don’t think information sharing will improve your experience, you can use our privacy tools to do things like edit or turn off your search history and YouTube history, control the way Google tailors ads to your interests and browse the web “incognito” using Chrome. You can use services like Search, Maps and YouTube if you are not signed in. You can even separate your information into different accounts, since we don’t combine personal information across them. And we’re committed to data liberation, so if you want to take your information elsewhere you can.
Reding gets the last word
Reding had fuel for her fire. In fact, she did not mince words and cited facts supporting the contention that most users were unaware of what they were signing up to when they used popular Internet services like those of Google:
The commissioner’s final quote summed it all up, "We know data is the bloodstream of these new industries ... but at the same time there are basic European rules ... which have to be applied, and unfortunately we always see that those rules are just not observed, and illegality is taking over."
Where we go from here is anyone’s guess. At the Mobile World Congress currently going on in Barcelona, various speakers, including Google Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt during a keynote address, cautioned the audience that over 60 countries are not censoring the Internet and more a likely to do so. Unstated was the notion that not allowing Google to implement its new privacy policies was a form of governmental censorship of people’s rights to use services as they see fit.
Inquiring minds want to know if the EU will stop the new policy from going into effect in Europe. Will Google be forced to have one set of rules for places like the U.S. and another for other parts of the world? Will Google relent completely and ditch the consolidation? Unfortunately, inquiring minds are going to have to wait a bit.
Finally, while Google is facing the EU firing squad at the moment, this is not just about them. They happen to be a timely target. Individual privacy has been and will continue to be one of the most important, if not the most important, policy issue of 2012. The friction between the desirability of using “big data,” especially as extracted from people’s surfing and transactional habits which is the oil that greases the value creation engine for Internet services, versus the rights of individuals to have control over that information is only likely to grow.
In the U.S. there is an old saying that, “rules were made to be broken.” This has been used as justification in the technology world as a reason the U.S. leads the world in innovation. While it may apply to things like the rules of physics, Google needs to be careful when it comes to actual law. Hold on to your hats. This is going to be a wild one.
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