European privacy regulators search for answers on Google's new policy

French commission acts for data privacy regulators across the European Union

The French National Commission on Computing and Liberty (CNIL) has fired a salvo of questions at Google about the new privacy policy it introduced at the start of this month.

Acting for data privacy regulators across the European Union, the Commission has twice asked Google to delay introduction of the new policy, which it says breaches E.U. data protection law, but on each occasion the company refused.

Now the Commission wants to know whether Google has made any effort to answer questions from its users about the policy, and if so how many it has received. It also wants to know what proportion of visitors to Google's sites have actually consulted the new privacy policy.

While Google's new policy seeks to impose the same privacy policy on all its services, the Commission insists on asking for which services Google processes each of five categories of information: credit card data, device-specific information, telephony logs, location information and unique device identifiers.

In the 12-page questionnaire, the Commission highlights a significant omission from Google's new policy: face recognition. While social networking rival Facebook is making great use of the technology, Google has nothing to say about it -- although the function does feature in the Picasa desktop application linked to its online photo album service. Does this mean Google is not performing face recognition, the Commission asks, or will the company ask for separate authorization for this function?

Another area of concern for the Commission is Google's use of cookies to identify particular terminals, which would enable it to link all account users connecting to Google services through those terminals.

Google says that when users request the deletion of their personal information, it may not be removed from backup systems. The Commission wants to know why that's the case, and if that means the personal data will never be removed from the backups.

All in all, the questionnaire appears to ask everything a privacy activist (or ordinary Google user) could wish to know about the company's handling of data. Whether that wish will be granted, though, depends on Google: The company has no obligation to answer, and the Commission has promised that Google's answers will be treated as confidential, and not published without the company's permission.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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Peter Sayer

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