Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are secret backers behind European Privacy Association

The privacy organization has hidden its ties to corporate backers

After being accused of a lack of transparency by an independent watchdog, the European Privacy Association (EPA) has confirmed that Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are backers.

The Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), which works to expose privileged access in E.U. policy making, said in a complaint Thursday that the European Privacy Association is working to represent industry interests in the debate on data protection in Europe, even though it has not listed any corporate backers on the E.U.'s "Transparency Register."

The register, which is operated by the European Parliament and European Commission, requires all signatories to disclose their interests, objectives or aims and, where applicable, the clients they represent.

The EPA is listed in the category of think tanks, research and academic institutions and claims to have only 10 private (non-corporate) members. However, EPA managing director Pietro Paganini confirmed to the IDG News Service that Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are members.

CEO campaign coordinator Olivier Hoedeman was not surprised. "A look at EPA's activities with regard to the ongoing debate on the overhaul of the European Data Protection rules shows that it favors a lighter regulatory touch and until recently the EPA advertised business membership at a cost of €10,000 per year on its website," Hoedeman said.

He said that the name of the organization, with its pro-privacy connotations, conflicted with its very pro-industry stance, creating "a confusing, a mismatch." CEO has described the EPA as an "astroturf organization," or front group, defending the interests of large IT corporations.

Paganini refuted these allegations, saying that although the EPA listens to its members ideas and concerns, the reports it produces are independent. He claimed the failure to list the companies on the Transparency Register was an oversight.

Joe McNamee of EDRi (the European digital rights organization) said he had brought the issue to EPA's attention four months ago in January of this year but that nothing had been done. Paganini said that EPA did not know it was supposed to list any corporate members on the transparency register. was unfamiliar with the procedure in Brussels. However, EPA chairwoman Karin Riis Jorgensen is a former elected member of the European Parliament.

CEO says there is also evidence that the EPA has close relationships with two lobbyist consultancy firms, Competere Geopolitical Management and DCI Group, and is working to promote industry-friendly legislation in the new Data Protection Regulation that digital rights organizations say will undermine fundamental civil liberties online.

The CEO has laid out its allegations in a complaint to the secretariat overseeing the transparency register. The secretariat says it will examine the evidence put forward by CEO and by June 7 will announce a decision whether to impose sanctions or require the company to update its entry.

Google had no comment on the issue. Microsoft did not have an immediate comment and Yahoo officials were not available for comment.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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Tags business issuesYahooGoogleMicrosoftlegalCorporate Europe ObservatorygovernmentEuropean Privacy Association

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Jennifer Baker

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