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Developments related to Google’s privacy concerns

- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 16, 2012

European regulators have asked Google to clarify its new privacy policy and make it easier for users to opt out of it. It's the latest concern raised by regulatory officials. Here are some developments related to Google Inc. and privacy over the years:

March 30, 2011: The Federal Trade Commission announces a settlement with Google. The search and advertising company agrees to adopt a comprehensive privacy program to settle federal charges that it deceived users and violated its own privacy policy when it launched a social-networking service called Buzz. The settlement mandates independent audits to oversee and verify Google's privacy program every other year for the next 20 years. The settlement also requires Google to obtain user consent before sharing consumer information with third parties if it alters a service to use the data in a way that would violate its existing privacy policy. Google signed the deal in October 2011.

Jan. 24, 2012: Google announces a plan to link user data across its email, video, social-networking and other services. The company says the move will simplify its privacy policy, improve the user experience and help advertisers find customers more easily, especially on mobile devices. Critics raise privacy concerns. The plan takes effect March 1.

Feb. 28: France's regulator says a preliminary analysis finds that Google's new policy appears to violate European data-protection rules. The regulatory agency CNIL says Google's explanation of how it will use the data is too vague and difficult to understand "even for trained privacy professionals."

April 13: The Federal Communications Commission fines Google $25,000, saying the online search leader "deliberately impeded and delayed" an investigation into how it collected data while taking photos for its Street View mapping feature. The FCC also says it will not take action against Google over its data collection. Part of the reason for that is that it still has "significant factual questions" about the Street View project that haven't been answered.

April 26: Google disputes the FCC's characterization of that probe and says the FCC was the party that took its time. Google argues that the 17-month inquiry would have gone much more quickly if the FCC hadn't dawdled so much. Google says it accepted the fine to close the case.

Aug. 9: The FTC announces that Google has agreed to pay a $22.5 million fine to settle allegations that it broke a privacy promise by secretly tracking the online activities of millions of people who use Apple's Safari web browser. It's the largest penalty ever imposed by the FTC. Google isn't admitting any wrongdoing. The fine isn't over Google's data collection, but for misrepresenting what was happening, in violation of last year's agreement to settle the Buzz case.

Oct. 16: European regulators ask Google to clarify its new privacy policy and make it easier for users to opt out. France's data protection agency, which led the European investigation, outlines three major concerns: It's not clear enough in explaining to users what data are collected and how they will be used; it's too difficult for users to opt out of data collection and combination; and Google doesn't always say how long it will hold onto data. Google says the company is reviewing the report but believes its policy respects European law.

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