Ten countries urge privacy changes at Google

Google co-founder Sergey Brin (R) participates in a panel discussion in Mountain View, California February 9, 2010. Also appearing on the panel are Google's Vic Gundrota (L), vice president of engineering, Todd Jackson (2nd L), project manager for Gmail and "Buzz," and Bradley Horowitz (2nd R), vice president of product management. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Data protection and privacy chiefs from 10 countries issued a joint letter pushing search engine giant Google to improve respect for data privacy, Canada’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner said on Tuesday.

The heads of data protection authorities in Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and Britain issued a letter whose criticism focused on the botched roll-out of Google’s Buzz.

In introducing the new service in February, Google melded existing Gmail accounts with its new service Buzz, thus exposing Gmail contacts to other Buzz users. Google has made changes to Buzz to take into account the criticism.

But the privacy chiefs argued that the problem should never have occurred.

“(W)e are increasingly concerned that, too often, the privacy rights of the world’s citizens are being forgotten as Google rolls out new technological applications. We were disturbed by your recent roll-out of the Google Buzz social networking application, which betrayed a disappointing disregard for fundamental privacy norms and laws,” said the letter, which was addressed to Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt.

In the letter, which also noted previous privacy controversies over Google Street View, the privacy chiefs called on Google to collect as little information about users as is practicable, to inform users about how their information will be used, to ensure privacy controls are easy to find and easy to use, among other steps.

“While we hear corporations such as Google pay lip service to privacy, we don’t always see this reflected in the launch of new products,” Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said in a statement.

Google said it tries “very hard to be upfront about the data we collect, and how we use it, as well as to build meaningful controls into our products.”

“Of course we do not get everything 100 percent right -- that is why we acted so quickly on Buzz following the user feedback we received,” a spokesman said in an emailed statement.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Tim Dobbyn