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back to article How Google lost the trust of Europe’s data protection authorities

Over the last two years, various European data protection commissioners have taken action against Google. Hardly a month goes by without something being reported: a €145,000 (£121,000, $189,000) StreetView fine here or a court case about jurisdiction there. So it is important to understand: “Why is Google on the receiving end …

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Bronze badge

Re: So what’s wrong with Google’s privacy policy

What planet are you orbiting?

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Bronze badge

Re: So what’s wrong with Google’s privacy policy

I think it's not that he is inhabiting a lunar landscape, but that his howling at one suggests a certain detachment from terrestrial reality.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So what’s wrong with Google’s privacy policy

If you want to know what's wrong with Google privacy policy, you only need to read the original report.

That is, however, not exactly where it stops. As I have been saying before in various forums, it's not just that Google seems to flat out ignore Data Protection laws in Europe, it also deceives its users in accepting such a policy. For instance, aspects of Gmail are actually simply illegal in Europe as far as I can tell. Worse: if you use Gmail for business in Europe, your business would pick up such a liability instead of Google. There is more, several car manufacturers are now finding out they have gotten themselves into deep, deep trouble thanks to Google.

From a political angle, Amberhawk forgets to mention one thing in an otherwise good summary: as a consequence of the Streetview affair, Google can no longer claim ignorance of EU law - it is now a REPEAT offender, and this is where the politics firmly take off. By being in the dock again for violation of the same laws, Google has now created an issue that hits the political sphere. Worse, by simply ignoring the letter that was a combined effort of 27 or so EU countries, it created an impression of arrogance and lost the opportunity to deal with this issue in one fell swoop. It will now possibly face protected battles in every member state separately - each keen to show they are not the US, and each with EU backing to go to town on Google.

Personally, I'm not sad about this. It seems to become a trend that a US company can fatten up in the US by paying but token fines for breaking the law as an acceptable part of operating and then come to Europe and try to do the same. I have no great love for the EU, but I think laws are there to follow.

If Google wants our money, it should damn well follow our laws.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So what’s wrong with Google’s privacy policy

Whether or not you are an explicit Google user is no longer under your control... Google is all pervasive. The first point is a question, the second an example of how futile protecting privacy is :-

#1. I have a question regarding Google Analytics + Ad Tracking.... When you click on a website that uses Google Analytics....The resulting tracking info is fed back into Google's Ad business....TRUE or FALSE...?

#2. NoScript / AdBlock is no answer:

http://www.adotas.com/2011/08/hulu-caught-respawning-cookies-as-etags-enter-tracking-fray/

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So what’s wrong with Google’s privacy policy

Not enough. I have yet to find a Wordpress template that isn't dependent on Google fonts for its design, which means every time you hit a site based on Wordpress, the Google fonts API gets a hit from you too. Google has infested the Net with multiple ways to track you because it knows full well that some of this will eventually be found to be illegal..

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Anonymous Coward

Can I suggest

you replace the 'evading' term (which is illegal) with 'avoiding'. Just to save you a libel suit. :-)

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Headmaster

Re: Can I suggest

The suggestion isn't that Google are evading tax, but evading paying a fair share of tax. There's a massive difference in meaning.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Can I suggest

@Richard IV - If you say so (IANAL), but I was led to believe that evasion of paying any tax (even 'a fair share') is illegal - personally I would change it to 'avoid' - just to reduce any risk and 'evade' any ambiguity :-)

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Tea Parties

Whatever they may be doing wrong elsewhere, I can't fault their tax behaviour, because they're complying with what the governments of the world require them to do. UK/EU law lets them move money out of the country without paying UK tax, the EU positively encourages multinationals to have a single tax base in the EU and pay their taxes in that place (with the intention of encouraging countries not to set too high a rate of corporation tax) and there's an overall obligation to act in the best interests of the shareholders and no one else. Therefore, they're doing all they should and the government ought to be changing the tax laws if they don't like it, not trying to score cheap political points (of which all political parties are guilty).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Tea Parties

Not everything that is illegal is immoral. Not everything that is legal is moral. If more people acted based on the rightness of their deeds, and not their legality, the world would be a nicer place.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Tea Parties

@AC

What you say is probably correct - however most of the people who say what you said don't put it into practice themselves (so what gives them the right to tell others do it) - you may be different - you may voluntarily pay more tax than you have to (in which case I applaud you, as I don't). If you don't then you probably deserved the down-vote. I don't know which is true, but I would like to think the former (however I believe the latter).

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Re: Tea Parties

A legitimate argument, but one which is much easier to apply when dealing with categorical imperatives - something you either do or do not - than questions of degree, which are inevitable subjective and arbitrary.

What exactly constitutes a "moral" level of taxation? What precise percentage of my income do I need to hand over to the state before I am acting morally? What tax breaks is it acceptable for me to take advantage of? How obscure does a loophole need to be before it ceases to be legitimate?

Tax is too complex and too intimately tied up with subjective political ideas about the size and role of the state for it to be reasonable to expect people to be guided by their conscience. That is why we have law. If the government doesn't like the outcome of current tax law, then it should change it.

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Megaphone

Privacy is <i>complicated</i>

If you walk in the street, anybody who sees you can blog about it. There is at the moment no expectation of privacy about it. However, it is almost certainly illegal to set up a web site tracking the movements of people in the street. Where is the limit? I will quote in full this excellent paragraph from Simon Bell:

"Tax is too complex and too intimately tied up with subjective political ideas about the size and role of the state for it to be reasonable to expect people to be guided by their conscience. That is why we have law. If the government doesn't like the outcome of current tax law, then it should change it."

There is a corollary to this: Just replace the word "tax" by "privacy". Privacy is a very complex problem; it may never be solved, but a lot could be achieved by the government setting up a privacy code, akin to the tax code. Rather than leaving it to companies to write privacy policies that are supposedly understood and accepted by the users, the government should write the rules. You simply cannot trust a private company to even write a privacy policy that is easy to understand by everyone. As an example, this article from a company specialised in information law in an IT website just to explain the finer points of a single company's privacy policy and how it may not respect the law.

In fact, I fully expect the expression "privacy code" to become part of the political vocabulary — You saw it here first!

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Coffee/keyboard

Re: Privacy is <i>complicated</i>

How many fucking trees would it take for each copy of this privacy code?

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Re: Tea Parties

The point I'm making is that there is an argument (especially in places with lots of lawyers) that voluntarily paying more tax is not in the best interests of the shareholders, some of whom would then sue the company for not taking advantage of the tax breaks. Therefore, the correct behaviour for a company is to comply with the law[*] and those who don't like this behaviour should be lobbying their elected representatives in order to make it possible, if not mandatory, for companies to pay tax more in line with earnings in their jurisdiction.

[*] Noting that some companies can be quite creative in what they consider is compliance...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Privacy is <i>complicated</i>

How many trees?? Is your best argument against a government-written privacy code that trees would need to be killed and transformed into paper in order to print it?

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Silver badge

This would sound better...

...if I could long-tap articles on my phone to open several in new windows without it trying to take me somewhere like pubads.doubleclick.net for the first few times in each session. Normal tap works, long-tap does this thing...

Isn't it a little rich to disparage Google's rampant data collection while using those same services yourselves?

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Meh

Re: This would sound better...

You've nailed the real issue. Everyone likes the performance of Google search but they don't like the fact that part of what makes their search so effective is that personal data helps them identify what people are actually looking for (and sell ads of course). Google search would not work as well without behavioral analysis but no one likes the idea that their data is analyzed. They're pretty much OK if other people's info is analyzed, just not theirs. It is a very thorny issue and is not as easy to solve as people tend to think.

Disclaimer: I do not like the retention of personally identifiable data but I do understand its purpose(s).

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Re: This would sound better...

"Google search would not work as well without behavioral analysis...."

I don't agree with this and have no reason to think that it's actually true. When I search for something I want the results listed in terms of popularity. That requires no "behavioral analysis" (not in any meaningful sense for those wishing to carp and be pedantic). And as for the ads that get shown along with the search results: whatever "behavioral analysis" is involved is wasted as far as I'm concerned, because I and most people too, make the eminently reasonable assumption that those ads are being shown for Google's benefit and purposes, not for mine, and on that basis alone should be ignored.

As I have said before in regard to "targeted advertising", "behavioral analysis" is also targeted at gullible advertisers. Its effectiveness on end-users has got to be negligible; witness Google's constant battle to divert attention from the fact that first three results on any page of search results are paid ads and not actual search results - Google knows that people, in their turn, know that the the ads shown are for the benefit of Google and its advertisers, and not for the benefit of its users.

(Of course, if you have proof that Google's "behavioral analysis' is anything more that marketing bullshit meant to mystify suggestible media buyers and that it is effective in more than a just a few edge cases and in anything more than a few unique circumstances, I will revise my opinion.)

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I want the results listed in terms of popularity

What happens when you search for Hoovers in the USA? Do you get a list of vacuum cleaners or people. If Google knows that you have been searching for the history of cleaning products in the USA it can take an educated guess as to which set of results are advantageous to you. If you don't like it you can turn off the personalised search results.

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Happy

Re: This would sound better...

Most people do not give a toss about how/who/why the ads are shown. You (and myself and many technical professionals) are the exceptions. Advertising has always been a numbers game (a .5% gain from an advertising campaign is pretty solid performance) and the web just increases those numbers. I'd rather see ads for something moderately interesting to me (right now El Reg is showing me an ad for portable industrial lighting which is something I have been researching for a large purchase) as opposed to wedding dresses or credit score.

You want sites ranked by popularity right? Popularity by what metric? Total traffic (that worked great for porn sites for a long time), time spent on the site, time spent on a site linked to within the first site, time on the landing page, purchases after initial visit, purchases after multiple visits, time until account created, time until visitor initiates contact with site operator? There are a million other metrics that help determine what is popular. If you've got a better way to determine what is popular and relevant the market is ripe for a Google competitor. Right now no one is doing it better.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: This would sound better...

"Google search would not work as well without behavioral analysis"

I do not know about that. I browse permanently in private mode (FF17, downgraded after the screw-up with FF19+), and my IP addresses tend to be pretty random (I'm at various places during the day, and various countries during the week/month).

One of the reasons for permanent private mode is so that I can get the "pristine" browsing experience. Even in that case, their search seems to work pretty well (as it used to back in '98 or so, which is how they obliterated all other search engines).

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Holmes

Re: This would sound better...

If I must see advertising then I'd rather see clearly identifiable advertising which isn't distracting LOOK SHINY in-your-face NO DON'T READ THE ARTICLE LOOK AT ME junk.

If it is distracting, IT IS BAD and I will take action to ensure that it is not visible to me.

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The EU should take a leaf out the USA's book.....

........... and impose ridiculously huge fines on 'foreign' companies like the US did with BP, Barclays et al

A five beeeellion euro fine might make then rethink their attitude to local laws.

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Anonymous Coward

"You better not fine us, otherwise we'll move our operations elsewhere".

"A five beeeellion euro fine might make then rethink their attitude to local laws."

Sorry, but that won't wash. It will just lead to a classic stand-off over job losses: "You better not fine us, otherwise we'll move our operations elsewhere". Politicians have no answers to being threatened with job cuts, after all officials don't innovate they stifle. They rely on private companies to create jobs, living in fear of bad unemployment numbers which could lead to loss of office. Hence why politicians are all pro-business, its all about jobs, jobs, jobs i.e. addiction to GDP!

Google Inc have politicians and regulators over a barrel and they know it! Governments will never levy massive fines for privacy issues because they fear it could 'stifle innovation'. In the energy field BP's fines will be offset by insurance held, and by future revenues covered by lenient drilling rights granted by the same government in future back room deals. Compared to BP, Barclay's fines were peanuts, and the bank will just push the fines onto ordinary customers as the cost of doing business!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "You better not fine us, otherwise we'll move our operations elsewhere".

I really think the whole "we'll move our jobs elsewhere" argument could be made weaker by simply making it a lot more public.

Maybe a company doesn't want to have jobs in a country because that country actually wants businesses to follow the rules, that doesn't mean that the company doesn't want to take whatever money is available in that country.

So simply inform the public of the policies of that company, in the hopes that they'll refrain from associating with the company. According to all that free market capitalist logic, a new company will come along and set up shop, if there's money to be made. Thus restoring the jobs and tada - sod off original "we'll take your jobs" company.

But this of course hinges on an informed public to be able to pull off such a plan, but an informed public is also a threat to politicians in power - ach two-edged sword and what not.

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Evil Robots

Corporations are, of necessity, evil robots. If they don't serve the bottom line they simply die and get replaced by more effective (ruthless) competition.

Corporations cannot self-govern beyond the confines of survival without committing Seppuku. It is *our* responsibility to legislate rules and provide sufficient rewards and penalties to enforce compliance. The public should decide what is in the public good.

Corporations will follow the rules if they know what the rules are and we make compliance more profitable than non-compliance. Thus far, the rules are confusing at best and non-compliance is decidedly more profitable than compliance.

Currently, our privacy legislation is wholly inadequate. It has been created by vested interests who are essentially opposed to privacy and voted on by people with no understanding of the technology and the issues it creates. Neither group has any real moral compass as far as I can tell.

I have no doubt Sergey Brin is at least reasonable. However, with respect to privacy, he is in between a rock and a hard place. Facebook is very effectively constructing a walled garden that will eventually be able to very effectively target advertising. They have gotten here by playing fast and loose with privacy. I see LinkedIn starting to follow suite, BTW. Google is already struggling to meet the challenge posed by Facebook. It seems to me that they are losing thus far and so reaching in to specifically hobble Google merely provides a greater advantage to Facebook.

In my opinion, Facebook is much closer to sucking the Oxygen out of Google's air than people realize.

Singling out Google and punishing them specifically is to some extent a vote in favor of getting a different opponent. The next one may not be nearly as benign as Google. That is not to say Google is benign, just to say that a company in its position could do significantly more damage than Google has done. The cure to Google's excesses is to remove the necessity for them by leveling the playing field so that the public is protected from any entity (not just Google and not just companies) compromising their privacy.

In order to ensure our privacy, we have to create legislation with very specific limits and enforce that legislation to the point of compliance. Meantime, we need to change our laws such that any information obtained in violation of reasonable expectations of privacy is not usable. A specific example would be improperly obtained evidence from surveillance without judicial oversight. The default should be 'fruit of the poison true' unless demonstrated otherwise.

Ensuring actual privacy from prying eyes is nigh impossible and promises to get more difficult with time. There are technical ways using multiple joint custody, encryption and proxies to make it so that the information required to deliver a service is limited to only that limited set of elements and expires upon use. We could make it so that it was illegal for a company like Amazon to collect *any* personal data, even temporarily, and still be able to collect money from you and deliver goods.

Our current PKI is, in my opinion, something of a disaster. Given how badly security has been constructed on the Internet, it seems fair to say that before we get this under control, technical people like (some, but not all) readers of The Register need to skill way, way, way up on security mechanisms and the other technical details that surround data transmission, collection, verification, retention and usage. Non-technical people are not going to know whether or not a given protocol can reasonably be depended upon to be secure. They will have to take somebody's word for it. They can have more confidence if knowledge and agreement is wide-spread amongst the people who they rely upon for other technical matters.

[Note: I have spent years working with both privacy and security, but I do not exclude myself from the group requiring more skill.]

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Evil Robots

"Currently, our privacy legislation is wholly inadequate. It has been created by vested interests who are essentially opposed to privacy and voted on by people with no understanding of the technology and the issues it creates. Neither group has any real moral compass as far as I can tell."

Agree. That's it in a nutshell!

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Gold badge

Re: Evil Robots

Yup. The short summary is that if you want the privacy you are actually entitled to by law, you have to do it yourself. Because the law is not enforced, which is about as useful as not having laws in the first place.

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Thumb Up

Re: Evil Robots

"Meantime, we need to change our laws such that any information obtained in violation of reasonable expectations of privacy is not usable."

I agree with your post in principle, and absolutely support your views concerning privacy, but to play devil's advocate in relation to this quote, would you still say that if a man who raped your daughter walked away scot-free on a technicality because the video catching him in the act was declared inadmissible due to "surveillance without judicial oversight?"

Many lambast the courts and justice system for just this kind of scenario; a criminal walking free because of legal technicalities is exactly the kind of thing that gets normally reasonable people screaming about judges slapping wrists and howling for lynch mobs and vigilante justice.

The internet combined with cheap plentiful digital cameras and the kind of data aggregation provided by companies like Google, has opened a Pandora's box full of very frightening possibilities. At what point do our freedoms and rights of privacy trump the ability of the justice system to put thugs behind bars? At what point does the ability of the justice system to impose the rule of law trump our rights and freedoms?

Now any regulars on this forum who have seen my posts know my stance on the importance of freedom and privacy and my often vitriolic defence of them. I absolutely agree with the points you made in your post, yet the issues I've raised here must also be addressed if we are to have any hope of actually retaining the freedom and privacy we both value so highly.

I don't pretend to have a solution. But whatever solution we come up with must somehow encompass accountability and responsibility as well as freedom and privacy.

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Devil

"Various European data protection commissioners have taken action against Google"

But not the UK's ICO.

I don't believe the ICO have fined Google a penny, ever...?

On the other hand, senior staff have accepted jobs from ICO. The two aren't linked, obviously.

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Anonymous Coward

As a privacy nutter

As a privacy nutter, I block virtually all 3rd party scripts and cookies. Here on El Reg, google tag services and google analytics are blocked. Those two are obviously blocked everywhere.

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Anonymous Coward

Start Page

Start Page claims to mask your queries to Google. Even then a result's URL is sometimes prefixed by a Google indirection - which fortunately can to be edited out when pasted into a browser.

Can one trust Start Page to do what they say - or is it just another organisation's honey pot?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Start Page

You get two types of links from StartPage. One is the Google link (if it presents you something from Google) and one is titled "view by Ixquick Proxy" - use the latter one.

If you want to be totally clean you need to route through Tor with a cleaned out browser in privacy mode, and even that needs more filtering ..

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Start Page

"[...] one is titled "view by Ixquick Proxy [...]"

Unfortunately the Ixquick proxy is often unable to render the target page - usually because of no cookies or Javascript. That's when I copy a shortcut of the real link and paste it into a browser.

I realise that my efforts to stop Google mining my searches are probably not very effective. Many vendors' sites, like Crucial memory or Dell, seem to propagate my product interest into targeted advertising elsewhere. Possibly their web pages use Google tools that effect that propagation?

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Good advertising

I have no problem with vendors advertising their value proposition for stuff I might buy anyway. To do a good job they need to collect data and for the most part, the more the better. I just do not want that to necessarily be linked to my family in meatspace. It is possible to devise rules and a system that will allow people to anonomusly purchase (and take delivery of) goods and services.

I have some particular concerns about misuse of data. For instance, I am sure that a history of purchases from drug stores could be misused to alter the cost of health insurance. The public conversation about this should reveal these concerns so we can collectively make informed decisions as to what the playing field should look like.

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Bronze badge

All going pear shaped for google?

The problem for google is that on the whole, everyone pays them, not the other way round.

Apple's tax dodging is legendary and barely gets a mention but it is easy to work out why.

If Google had stayed just as an advertising agency it is, it would not have Microsoft and Apple as mortal combat enemies. When Microsoft and Apple get back to telling the consumer what they want without that Android spanner in the works then peace will reign.

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