* French regulator to lead inquiry
* Casts doubt on legality, fairness of privacy rules
* Google has rebuffed calls for delay to new policy
* Due to be introduced March 1
By Leila Abboud
Feb 29 France's data protection watchdog
has cast doubt on the legality and fairness of Google's
The CNIL regulator told Google in a letter dated Feb. 27 it
would lead a European-wide investigation of the web search
giant's latest policy and would send it questions by mid-March.
Google said in January it was simplifying its privacy
policy, consolidating 60 guidelines into a single one that will
apply for all its services, including YouTube, Gmail and its
social network Google+.
The U.S. Internet company also said it will pool data it
collects on individual users across its services, allowing it to
better tailor search results and improve service.
Users cannot opt out of the new policy if they want to
continue using Google's services.
"The CNIL and EU data authorities are deeply concerned about
the combination of personal data across services: they have
strong doubts about the lawfulness and fairness of such
processing, and its compliance with European data protection
legislation," the French regulator wrote to Google.
Google plans to put the changes into effect March 1 and has
rebuffed two requests from European regulators for a delay.
The tussle over data privacy comes at a delicate time for
Google, whose business model is based on giving away free
search, email, and other services while making money by selling
It is already being investigated by the EU's competition
authority and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over how it
ranks search results and whether it favours its own products
over rival services.
In a Tuesday blog post responding to CNIL's letter, Google
said it was happy to answer questions from Europe's data
"As we've said several times over the past week, while our
privacy policies will change on 1st March, our commitment to our
privacy principles is as strong as ever," wrote Peter Fleischer,
Google's global privacy counsel.
In his letter to CNIL, which was also posted, Fleischer
added: "We are confident that our new simple, clear and
laws and principles."
Commission move to overhaul its 17-year-old data protection
rules in favour of more stringent requirements.
Under the proposed new EU rules, Internet companies like
Google, Facebook and Yahoo would have to ask users
whether they can store and sell their data to other businesses,
such as advertisers, which is source of almost all their income.
Internet users can also ask for their data to be deleted
from websites for good, the so-called "right to be forgotten."
Policy makers in other countries have also expressed
Eight U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to Google in late January
expressing concern that a planned consolidation of user
information endangered consumers' privacy.
Japan's trade and industrial ministry warned on Wednesday
that Google must follow Japan's privacy law in implementing its
new approach, and that Google needed to provide explanations to
address users' concerns.
"It is important for the firm to be flexible by providing
necessary additional explanations or measures to address actual
user concerns or requests also after March 1..." the ministry
said in a statement.