Google calls for global online privacy standard

Search giant Google will propose on Friday that governments and technology companies create a transnational privacy policy to address growing concerns over how personal data is handled across the Internet.

Google's global privacy counsel, Peter Fleischer, will make the proposal at a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization meeting in Strasbourg, France, dealing with the intersection of technology with human rights and ethics.

Fleischer's 30-minute presentation will advocate that regulators, international organizations, and private companies increase dialog on privacy issues with a goal to create a unified standard.

Google envisions the policy to be a product of self-regulation by companies, improved laws, and possible new ones, according to a Google spokesman based in London.

"We don't want to be prescriptive about who does that and what those standards are because it should be a collaborative effort," the spokesman said.

Other organizations have already made progress on privacy standards, he said. For example, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) created a nine-point Privacy Framework designed to aid countries without existing policies.

However, the framework has been criticized for vagueness and only been partially implemented by APEC members, said David Bradshaw, principal analyst at Ovum.

E.U. privacy regulations are already more stringent than the APEC's recommendations, which highlights the difficulty in creating a global standard that meets existing regulatory requirements in various geographic areas, he said.

"From Google's viewpoint, they can't expect the E.U. and those nations that have higher privacy standards to level down to the APEC standards," Bradshaw said.

Google's increasing power in search, Internet commerce and software services has place its privacy policies under scrutiny.

In June, Google said it would delete the data it stores about end-users anonymous in its server logs after 18 months, part of an effort to deflate concerns about privacy raised by a European Union (E.U.) working group composed of data protection officials from 27 countries.

Google took a further battering after it acquired DoubleClick, an online advertising company that uses technology to track user trends in order to serve them targeted ads. The technology, also used by many other Internet advertising companies, has raised privacy concerns.

A European consumer group, Bureau Europeen des Unions de Consommateurs asked the European Commission in July as well as other authorities to investigate how the DoubleClick deal would impact consumers.

The focus on privacy by governments and individual Internet users has resulted in localized legislation, causing a fragmentation in privacy regulations, Google's spokesman said.

That can make it difficult for e-commerce businesses, as an increasing amount of data is routinely crossing international borders through credit card transactions, he said.

"We really hope that this sparks a sustained, thoughtful creative debate, he said.

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Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
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