Google and new, international privacy rules

by Maria on September 15, 2007

Google is staking a claim on the moral high ground of Internet privacy. The company has called for new international rules, ostensibly to protect privacy online. Little of Google’s search information is strictly ‘personal data’, i.e. data directly concerning named individuals. But search data, potentially tied to individuals’ IP numbers, is dynamite, something it’s taken Google a long time to face up to publicly. Google got its fingers badly burnt by the incredulous reaction to its ‘trust us, we’re the good guys’ privacy policy a couple of years back. They hired Peter Fleischer, a well-respected Microsoft lawyer and data protection expert, to put their case more seriously. And now Fleischer is showing Google’s global citizenship willing by suggesting to UNESCO that an international body create a new set of rules on Internet privacy. But would this improve individuals’ privacy?

Part of the argument for a new instrument – at least as summarized in reports on the speech – is that the existing ones are too old and were crafted before the Internet really took off. The OECD Guidelines date from 1980 and the EU data protection directive from 1995, so they’re said to be out of date. Fleischer is said to argue for new rules based on the APEC privacy framework, and says Google is in favour of individuals’ privacy. The trouble is the ‘past their sell by date’ argument doesn’t hold up, and the APEC principles are a weak model to anyone who cares about privacy.
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