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'Deep' concerns over Google's new privacy policy

Google's new privacy policy raises deep concerns over the 'lawfulness' and 'fairness' to its users as it fails to meet EU data protection laws, a European watchdog has warned.

France's private watch dog CNIL, which is to take the lead in the analysis of the search giant's privacy rules, had previously urged Google to halt planned alterations in order to scrutinise the policy's details. However, despite the warnings, Google launched its amended policy on midnight 1 March.

The new policy has raised concerns because it means that Google is able to track large parts of a user's online activity. The changes mean that private data can be shared across its other platforms such as YouTube, Gmail and Blogger, meaning an individual using Google's search engine - if they are signed in - could receive adverts on all platforms related to their initial search requests.

Google states that their new privacy policy will enable them to build a 'better, more intuitive user experience across Google for signed-in users.'

In a guest blog for the Guardian, Google's director of privacy for products and engineering Alma Whitten reiterated that user privacy remained a priority and acknowledged the changes had attracted increased scrutiny.

She said: "Our updated privacy policy makes it clear in one comprehensive document that, if you're signed in, we may combine information you've provided from one service with information from our other services. We think this will lead to more relevant and useful information of all kinds - search results, ads and more that suit our user's interests."

Preliminary findings from the CNLI, however, indicate that the policy fails to meet the requirements of the European Data Protection Directive regarding the information that must be provided to data subjects.

According to a statement by the CNIL, both it and EU data protection authorities welcome a more streamlined and simplified approach to its privacy policy providing it remained transparent and comprehensive for its users. It believes the merger of its services and privacy policies has made it 'impossible' to understand and regretted that Google did not delay the application of the new policy as requested.

The CNLI said: "Rather than promoting transparency, the terms of the new policy and the fact that Google claims it will combine data across services raise fears and questions about Google's actual practices. The impact on privacy and data protection is all the more important, given that Google represents more than 80% of the European search engine market, and more than 40% of the global online advertisement market."

The CNIL now intend to address the concerns in detail with Google's representatives by mid-March and have reiterated the request for Google to cancel its new policy until then.