Google backs US-wide privacy laws

Out-Law News | 12 Jun 2008 | 3:28 pm | 2 min. read

Google has given its backing to the idea of a national privacy law in the US, according to reports. The search giant, whose own privacy policies are often controversial, told a senior politician that it supported the idea.

Google possesses massive amounts of information on users of its search engine, email, mapping and other internet-based tools, and has been the subject of criticism in Europe for keeping that information for too long.

US law is typically less stringent on privacy concerns than that in Europe, but Google has backed the idea of a national, or federal, privacy law, according to Reuters. The news agency said that the company wrote to Republican member of Congress Joe Barton to express support for a national law.

"Google supports the adoption of a comprehensive federal privacy law that would accomplish several goals such as building consumer trust and protections; creating a uniform framework for privacy, which would create consistent levels of privacy from one jurisdiction to another; and putting penalties in place to punish and dissuade bad actors," said Google's chief lobbyist Alan Davidson in the letter.

Privacy activists have long worried about the amount of information Google collects and the length of time for which it is stored, and concerns have become more focused since the company acquired online advertising company DoubleClick, the market leader in the online display advertising market.

Barton, a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee of the House of Representatives, had written to Google to ask it about its privacy policies, and the backing for a privacy law came in Google's reply.

A number of US states including technology centres California and New York already have state privacy laws.

Google has been under pressure in recent days to place a link to its privacy policy on its homepage. A group of privacy and consumer activist bodies wrote to the company last week to urge it to publish a link to its policy on its homepage, but the company said it would not be changing the page.

Last July Google's privacy chief Peter Fleischer told OUT-LAW that the policy was easy to find and did not need to be on the front page.

"Google has a very sparse homepage. It’s one of the things that we’re very proud about," he told OUT-LAW Radio. "It’s kind of clean and zen-like. Last I counted I think we had something like 35 words on our homepage. On ours with only 35 words, we had to keep it very sparse. Now of course we’re a search engine, so anybody who wants to see our privacy policy can type 'Google privacy policy' and, trust me, it will come up as result number one. It’s not hard to find. We’re a search company. We don’t believe in pushing things into people’s face. We keep it easy and simple to find."

Google has also faced criticism from European privacy regulators who claim that the company's retention of search log data for up to 18 months breaches data protection regulations. Google has claimed that it is bound by the European Union's data retention laws, but privacy watchdogs counter that those apply to telecoms service providers and not to websites.