It all started with a letter earlier this month from the data protection authorities of ten countries demanding that Google (GOOG) improve user privacy, citing concerns about Google Buzz and Street View services.
The letter was signed by officials in Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Google’s initial response, as reported by Bloomberg:
We try very hard to be upfront about the data we collect, and how we use it. Of course we do not get everything 100 percent right - that is why we acted so quickly on [Google] Buzz.
However, Google took a testier turn when talking to the Wall Street Journal:
We have discussed all these issues publicly many times before and have nothing to add to the letter.
European authorities have long been among the Internet giant’s harshest critics when it comes to privacy issues. The company has negotiated with the European Union about the Street View mapping service, agreeing to limit to one year the storage of photos from the day images are published on the site.
Criticism is the U.S has been building too. A group of lawmakers recently asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Buzz, which they contend exposed private information about Google users. Google is also being sued in a California federal court over allegations the Buzz service violated privacy rights.
Google recently unveiled a “transparency tool” that gives information about requests it receives for user data or content removal from government agencies. The company is initially using data from July to December of last year. David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, said in a blog post, "we believe that greater transparency will lead to less censorship."
The elephant in the room, as much as the United States government prides itself on privacy and censorship, it is the one country conspicuously missing from the signatories of the letter.
This coupled with the latest and more defiant tone from Google regarding its privacy policies, one could not help wonder if the allegation is entirely baseless that Google’s China fiasco was nothing more than a political quid pro quo for the regulatory heat Google’s been under.
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