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Google Faces Privacy Pushback Abroad

EU, Canada and Asia ask search giant to revise policy
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Regulators from 20 countries—in a European Union-led effort also entailing Asia and Canada—called on Google to revise its 10-month-old privacy policy today at a press conference in Paris. The CNIL, a French regulator, provided 12 suggestions for informing consumers more thoroughly about how their data is collected across Google’s platforms and then used for marketing.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google updated its privacy policy in March. The company consolidated 60 individual privacy policies for Google-owned properties (i.e., Google.com, Google Mobile, Google+, YouTube, Gmail, etc.) into a single policy.

According to a letter sent yesterday from the regulators to Google CEO Larry Page (which was obtained by Bloomberg News), they want the search giant to “modify its practices when combining data across services.”

Based on Google's statement, the company doesn't think it has anything to correct in its policies. "We have received the report and are reviewing it now. Our new privacy policy demonstrates our long-standing commitment to protecting our users' information and creating great products," said Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel. "We are confident that our privacy notices respect European law."

European countries are tougher on privacy than the U.S., but U.S. legislators have also questioned whether Google has been playing fast and loose with its privacy policies. Google recently ponied up a record $22.5 million to settle charges brought by the Federal Trade Commission that it circumvented the privacy settings in Apple's Safari browser. The agency is also said to be preparing an antitrust lawsuit against Google, which it believes abuses its dominance in the search business.

At the I-Com Global Summit today in Rome, a pair of attendees of the big data conference spoke to Adweek about the developments. Though they admitted they weren't shocked, at the same time they said it's not great news for advertisers.

Michael Kaushansky, svp of insights and analytics at Havas Media USA, said there could be related setbacks for Google’s ambition to serve as a global single-stacked data solution for advertisers when it comes to information on its users. “You’d have to rely on fragmentation,” he said. “There could be additional cost to the advertiser because then you’d have to marry up a Google solution from an ad-serving perspective with third-party data.”

Kaushansky added that Google’s nascent audience-verification product for display advertising “might be dead in the water outside of the U.S. Their workhorse, search, could also be negatively impacted as they try to evolve that product. One of the features they’ve been trying to move to is audience-based search targeting. In the U.S., our clients have found that very exciting. Once again, that could now be an issue [outside the U.S.].”

Vicky Brock is a European Web data veteran who has worked on loyalty programs for Tesco and is currently heading a retail-based startup called Clear Returns. She said, “There are cultures and individuals that have no desire for data privacy. But there are also environments like Europe that put it at the core of their philosophy for historic and legislative reasons. They are not being uncool. It’s just a mind-set that’s different."

U.S. advertisers are fighting back against EU-style privacy guidelines, recently arguing at last week's World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in Amsterdam that the W3C should not be setting privacy policy. Earlier this year, the Digital Advertising Alliance agreed to honor an opt-in Do Not Track browser feature, but that plan was undercut by Microsoft's new default Do Not Track browser rolling out next month. Last week the DAA said its members, representing the online advertising community, would ignore the Microsoft feature.