Gov’t regulators call on Google to respect users’ privacy

Ten government regulators, including one from Canada, responsible for protecting the private information of their countries’ citizens have sent an open letter to Google calling on the company to respect national laws on privacy.

The regulators say the letter is also intended for other companies offering services over the Internet, but the version published is addressed to Google CEO Eric Schmidt and takes particular issue with the roll out of the company’s Buzz social networking service.

Buzz came in for criticism for the way it revealed users’ most-mailed contacts in a public feed, without warning them this would happen.

Google later modified the service’s behavior, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy the privacy commissioners.

“It is unacceptable to roll out a product that unilaterally renders personal information public, with the intention of repairing problems later as they arise. Privacy cannot be sidelined in the rush to introduce new technologies to online audiences around the world,” they wrote in the open letter to Schmidt.

Google Street View was also slammed. That service publishes photographs taken on public streets, but which can reveal the private habits of people pictured. Google offers to take the images down if it receives complaints, but some say that approach is incompatible with certain European countries’ laws.

In their letter to Schmidt, the privacy commissioners called on Google to respect national laws, and also to adhere to six guiding privacy principles:

– Collect and process only the minimum amount of personal information necessary to achieve the identified purpose of the product or service;

– Provide clear and unambiguous information about how personal information will be used to allow users to provide informed consent;

– Create privacy-protective default settings;

– Ensure that privacy control settings are prominent and easy to use;

– Ensure that all personal data is adequately protected, and

– Give people simple procedures for deleting their accounts, and honor their requests in a timely way.

“Privacy is a fundamental right that people value deeply,” the letter concluded, calling on Google to promise to respect privacy and data protection requirements before the launch of future products.

The letter was signed by the privacy commissioners of Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the U.K.

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