October 16, 2012
European regulators on Tuesday threatened Google with fines or legal action unless it makes it clearer to its customers what personal data is being collected from them and how it is being used.
In a letter to Google, the regulators stopped short of describing the company's 10-month-old data collection policy as illegal. But it noted that Google did not appear to adhere to Europe's approach to data collection, which requires explicit prior consent by individuals and that the data collected be kept at a minimum. The regulators couched their requests as "practical recommendations." But when asked what regulators would do if Google did not accede and make changes, Jacob Kohnstamm, head of the Dutch data protection authority, said national regulators probably would take legal action to compel changes. "After all, enforcement is the name of the game," Mr. Kohnstamm said.
The request was made by the French regulator, CNIL, the National Commission for Computing and Civil Liberties, at a news conference in Paris. The French agency was asked this year to analyze the legality of Google's new data policies by the European Commission's top privacy panel, called the Article 29 Working Group. Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, the chairwoman of CNIL, said her agency was giving Google "three to four months" to respond to its concerns. "If Google does not implement these recommendations, we will pass to a different phase, a phase of sanctions," Ms. Falque-Pierrotin said.
The regulators also noted that Google failed to tell the French investigators how long it kept certain kinds of data, despite being asked to. The group asked Google to make several specific changes to give consumers more awareness and control over their data, including an interactive online presentation of how the data is used. The regulators also asked Google to better explain the purposes for collecting data, and how data combined from its different services - which include YouTube, a search engine and the Google Plus social network - might be used. It also called on the company to give people greater ability to opt out if they did not want their information used for a specific purpose.
The request to Google comes as European antitrust regulators separately are investigating whether Google has used its search engine to favor its own services and through preferential rankings to put competitors at a disadvantage. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is also preparing a recommendation that will ask the U.S. government to sue Google for its search engine practices.
In Europe, Google has been under fire since it admitted in 2010 admitted that it had collected private data on individuals by secretly siphoning unencrypted Internet data that was broadcast from home WiFi routers, as Google cars drove by to take photographs for its Street View online map business. Google at the time attributed the collection of WiFi data to a programmer's error, but the computer engineer at the center of the project, who resided in California, has never publicly given his version of events. Last April, the Federal Trade Commission fined Google $25,000 for obstructing its investigation into the incident, although the regulator concluded that Google's collection of WiFi data, while intentional, was not illegal.
It's not unusual for incumbent pols to lay low during election years, relying on largely apathetic or discouraged voters and their own name ID to help them stay in office. Well, that strategy doesn't seem to be working in the case of incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr. Recent polls show the man with Pennsylvania's most bankable political name could be in trouble. And while some of those polls are viewed a tad suspect, new data released Tuesday by respected Quinnipiac polling has Casey holding only a slim (48-45) three-point lead over Western Pennsylvania coal king Tom Smith. "Tom Smith's relentless TV ad barrage has lifted him out of the coal mine to give Sen. Robert Casey a run for his money," says assistant Q-poll director Tim Malloy. "Casey had a 55-37 percent lead in Quinnipiac University's August 1 survey. Now this race is too close to call."
Smith, a multi-millionaire, has spent tons of his own cash on TV ads labeling Casey "Sen. Zero" and the "invisible Senator," and it sure seems to be working. It's not that Smith offers much in the way of specific ideas but his hammering at Casey and Washington in general has struck a rich vein of voter anger and mistrust. Smith says he's running because he's "fed up with what Bob Casey and the political class have done to America." Apparently, he's not alone.
The Casey camp labels Smith "Tea Party Tom" (he founded a regional tea party group some years back), but there are parts of Pennsylvania where that's a plus. The candidates finally agreed to one debate: Oct. 26 in Philly, to be moderated by WPVI's Jim Gardner and broadcast Sunday the 28th. Smith isn't the smoothest campaigner, and Casey sure isn't the most electric. But Smith's run is surprising many, and likely to get Casey's head finally out of the sand. philly.com
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