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Google and its big rivals say they never link an individual’s data to his name or address and that they don’t collect information on sensitive issues such as health or sexual orientation.

Google has come under fire after vans collecting data for its StreetView application also scooped up sensitive information from unprotected wireless networks.

Facebook last month acknowledged that 10 of its most popular “apps” transmitted information about its users to advertisers and data-gathering firms.

Google declined to comment on Thursday’s strategy paper, saying it was too early in the process. Facebook and Microsoft Corp., which runs search engine Bing, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

In the U.S., several proposals by lawmakers to tighten data protection laws have failed to gain much traction in Congress. But privacy experts said they were encouraged by the EU’s push to strengthen online privacy laws.

New EU rules are certain to create a “spillover effect” that raises the bar for privacy standards around the globe, including in the U.S., said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The U.S., he said, has been reluctant to update rules governing the collection of personal data online and has instead placed “blind faith in self-regulation.”

But “the EU directive is a wake-up call,” said Rotenberg, who last week testified on privacy issues in the European Parliament. “The U.S. will now have to work to catch up.”

Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a not-for-profit group based in Washington, believes that despite the bitter political climate in the capital, online privacy legislation may be one area ripe for bipartisan compromise.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission also is expected to weigh in on the matter.

The FTC will soon issue a report outlining recommendations on how to ensure that consumers know what information is being collected about them on the Web and how it is being used, and give them control over that data.


AP Business Writer Joelle Tessler in Washington contributed to this article.