May 31, 2007 / 4:35 PM / 12 years ago

EU decision on Google data privacy months away

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s data watchdog will take months to decide whether Google may be violating European privacy laws, a spokeswoman for the group said on Thursday.

An internet surfer views the Google home page at a cafe in London, August 13, 2004. The European Union's data watchdog will take months to decide whether Google may be violating European privacy laws, a spokeswoman for the group said on Thursday. REUTERS/Stephen Hird

The EU body, made up of national protection supervisors of the bloc’s 27 member states, said earlier this month that Google seemed to be failing to respect EU privacy rules and asked for clarifications before its next meeting on June 19-20.

The June meeting “will not be the end of the discussion,” said a spokeswoman for Peter Schaar, chairman of the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, as the group is known.

The EU data watchdog will decide in June on how to proceed, including whether to invite Google to its next meeting in early October, said spokeswoman Gabriele Loewnau.

Each Google search captures information on a user’s tastes, interests and beliefs that could potentially be used by advertisers or others, but the company says it keeps such data confidential.

SOFTWARE COOKIES

In a letter addressed to Google early this month the Working Party expressed concern about the length of time the world’s top search engine was retaining software cookies and other information on users searches.

“The new storage period of 18 to 24 months on the basis indicated by Google thus far does not seem to meet the requirements of the European legal data protection framework,” the body said in the letter to Google, made public on Thursday.

“Concerning the Google cookie, the lifetime of this cookie, which has a validity of approximately 30 years, is disproportionate,” the Working Party said.

The Working Party asked Google to explain why it was keeping the data so long and whether the process of making it anonymous was reversible.

Google will tell Brussels it needs to retain user search data up to two years for security and commercial reasons, its global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer said last week.

Fleischer said Google, at its own initiative, had decided in March to limit the time it kept engine search information to between 18 and 24 months. The company previously had no set time limit.

Loewnau said the EU body was not investigating other search engines at the moment, adding it had started looking into Google’s privacy rules after the search engine itself approached it.

The body advises the EU on privacy rules. It has no legal powers and its opinions are not binding.

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