Posted October 1, 2014 5:15 pm by with 1 comment

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puzzles-compilation-1440672-2-mThe Hamburg Commissioner of Data Protection and Freedom of Information (HmbBfDI) gave Google a tongue-lashing this week saying that Google’s profiling practices affects the privacy of users “beyond the admissible degree.”

The main concern is Google’s ability to mix and match data from various Google properties in order to build a more detailed user profile.

Google does not use sensitive, personal information for advertising purposes but the German regulator is still concerned about the depth of information that Google can get its hands on.

A press release from the Hamburg Commissioner of Data Protection and Freedom of Information states:

[By combining information from different products] it may be possible:

  • to compile detailed travel profiles by evaluating location data,
  • to detect specific interests and preferences by evaluating search engine use,
  • to assess the user’s social and financial status, their whereabouts and many other of their habits by analysing the collected data and
  • to infer information such as friend relationships, sexual orientation and relationship status

Google’s current privacy policy allows them to compile this information but let’s be honest – how many people really read and understand the Terms and Services? And what’s the alternative? If you don’t like Google’s privacy policies, you’re going to have to say no to a lot of very popular products. Sure, there are alternatives but for me, it’s worth giving up some privacy in order to have access to Google search, G-mail, YouTube and more.

Johannes Caspar, the Hamburg Commissioner of Data Protection and Freedom of Information agrees to a certain extent.

“In various meetings with Google we could achieve some improvements concerning the information of users. Nevertheless on the substantial issue of combining user data across services Google has not been willing to abide to the legally binding rules and refused to substantially improve the user’s controls. So we had to compel Google to do so by an administrative order. Our requirements aim at a fair balance between the concerns of the company and its users. The issue is up to Google now. The company must treat the data of its millions of users in a way that respects their privacy adequately while they use the various services of the company.”

Translation – unless Google can show that they have explicit permission to use this data from each, individual user, they’re going to be paying some hefty fines. And where Germany goes, can the rest of Europe be far behind? Sounds like we can all look forward to new privacy pop-ups in the near future.

  • I’m not so sure people outside of Europe would benefit from such a privacy initiative. It would be nice if Google scaled down the creep factor but they seem determined to crank it up whenever and wherever they can.