Google Privacy And Canada: Jennifer Stoddart, Privacy Commissioner, Airs Fears About Search Engine's Policy

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GOOGLE PRIVACY JENNIFER STODDART CANADA
Canada's privacy commissioner is "strongly" encouraging Google to clarify a new policy on linking user data across accounts, saying it may make some people uncomfortable. (The Canadian Press Images-Mario Beauregard) | CP

OTTAWA - Canada's privacy commissioner is "strongly" encouraging Google to clarify a new policy on linking user data across accounts, saying it may make some people uncomfortable.

Jennifer Stoddart has written to Google to express concerns about the company's plans to consolidate dozens of privacy policies for its various services into one, effective March 1.

She says under the new plan Google will link all of a user's data together when they are logged into a Google account and using various services, such as Picasa and Gmail.

Stoddart says in the past a user's general search history, which can be "quite unique and sensitive," would not have been used to improve search results on YouTube.

She says that separation is being removed, and urges Google to make it clear to users that if they are uncomfortable with this they can create separate accounts.

Stoddart notes that she has long been calling for better, more user-friendly privacy policies and says Google's is a "step in the right direction."

The privacy commissioner has called Google to task in the past.

An investigation by her office found the search engine broke Canadian privacy laws when it accidentally collected personal information from unsecured wireless networks while assembling its Street View mapping service.

The probe found complete emails, addresses, user names and passwords. Even a list that provided the names of people suffering from certain medical conditions was collected.

Google responded that subsequent to the investigation it boosted privacy and security training for all employees, started tracking all projects that collect personal information and assigned a team to periodically audit software privacy.

Stoddart said in June that she was satisfied with those steps.

In the latest letter to Google, released Friday, Stoddart also calls on the company to clarify data retention policies that she says seem to be missing in its new privacy policy.

The streamlined policy doesn't seem to have any timelines for Google's various services to delete personal information following a request from a user, Stoddart said, and requested an explanation from Google.

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