EU Regulators Target Google for Privacy

Google runs the world’s most-used search engine. They help us navigate the web. Entire businesses have been built around the search engine alone, not to mention its other services. The company provides users dozens of applications that allow them to gather information better, connect with others easier, and ultimately experience the internet in a way that is useful, easy, and fast. Can you imagine an internet without Google? I can’t.

But there are downsides to the ways that Google operates with some of its services. Personal information must be collected. For whatever reason, people in the US are a bit more open about personal information collection than people in the European Union. But if today’s story continues to develop, US regulators might be inspecting Google soon.

What’s the Big Deal?

According to the BBC, Google did something half fishy and half genius back in March. Google “[consolidated] 60 separate privacy policies into a single agreement.” “So what?” you might ask. On the surface, it appeared as if Google was being efficient by eliminating 59 redundant policies. But it’s not that simple.

What Google did opened up the information gates within the company. Now Google can share all of this data – collected with its numerous programs, apps, and services – throughout the entire company. It likely allows them to target ads to users more efficiently, in addition to unifying all of their information and making the flow of it much more fluid. According to EU regulators, “Google had failed to place any limit on the scope of collection and the potential uses of the personal data.” They are asking that Google make changes to their policies so that they are more transparent and easier to understand.

The EU has pretty stringent personal privacy laws. I’m no expert in that subject, but I would assume they are much tougher than US laws. If you’re like me, and you follow tech news pretty closely, you’ve likely noticed that many privacy and anti-trust cases brought against tech companies start (and usually stay) in the EU, so it’s no surprise they are acting on Google. But this time they are being pro-active rather than reactive.

Are Regulators Doing Google and Consumers a Favor?

James Fontanella-Khan with the Financial Times reports that EU regulators have “stopped short of defining Google’s privacy policy as illegal.” Also, there is no threat of fines for Google either. So could this be seen as a way for EU regulators to get Google to act in a way that the regulators approve? They are basically giving the company a heads up: you guys fix this before it becomes a problem.

Ultimately, it looks like transparency is the real problem that EU regulators have with Google. In my opinion, it should require more attention in the US. Personal data (and business data) is ours by nature, and without clear and precise information to tell us what data is being collected, stored, and distributed, we really don’t know what is going on. James Fontanella-Khan quotes Nick Pickles, of the group Big Brother Watch, who reminds us that we have “been kept in the dark” when it comes to the data Google collects, and the new changes at Google “only further disguised what really happens when you use their services.” I don’t like that feeling.

Privacy is a Delicate Issue

Don’t get me wrong though, I love what Google does. They have helped create a web that is both user-friendly and business-friendly. Google drives and funds the research behind the next big things that we’ll hopefully be a part of in the future. But it’s important for regulators like those in the EU to question and call companies like Google to act on privacy issues.

As the world becomes more connected and more social, we lose much of the privacy we had before the internet. That’s going to change how we do business and how we go about our daily lives. And it’s already impacting us.

We see ads that are specifically targeted to us. We’re given recommendations about places to shop or eat based on our tracked behavior. You can get fired or never hired due to personal data displayed on social media like Facebook. Businesses can collapse if private information is mishandled. The examples are endless, and they are only going to become more common if privacy rights are left undefended. So, kudos to the EU regulators, and let’s hope Google plays ball and makes changes that are good for consumers.

How important are privacy issues for your business and your personal life? Lets us know in the comments below!

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Patrick currently lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he is studying for a Master's Degree in Intercultural Relations. Upon graduation from Penn State in 2008, he spent two years overseas in Kyrgyzstan with the U.S. Peace Corps. While writing is currently his chosen way to put food on the table, he loves fitness and exercise, which he believes makes up for his avid computer gaming habit.

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