POLITICS

Privacy issues online evolving too fast for regulation, Google tells MPs

10/30/2012 05:22 EDT | Updated 12/30/2012 05:12 EST
OTTAWA - Search engine giant Google says it feels no need for governments to regulate online privacy policies.

A policy manager for the company's Canadian operations told a House of Commons committee that it would be difficult to determine default positions for the policies.

And Colin McKay says that's because the online world is evolving too quickly to set regulations in stone that would endure.

Drafting online privacy policies is complex work for companies balancing legal protections against making sure users understand what information they're giving up.

But McKay says he feels awareness of privacy is evolving to the point that people are shying away from using some applications because they don't want to share information.

McKay was appearing before a committee studying the issue of privacy and social media, where MPs raised concerns about Google's access to personal information.

But McKay says Google isn't "Big Brother" and Canadians should rest assured that the data it collects isn't used to develop individual profiles.

As a former member of the federal privacy commissioner's office, McKay said he's well aware of the challenges facing companies like Google.

Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart has launched several investigations of the search engine juggernaut in recent years for how it collects and uses people's information.

McKay says he doesn't feel there's a need for stronger enforcement powers that would encourage companies to more closely adhere to privacy laws.

He says they generally react quickly to Stoddart's rulings and the dialogue between the two sides is constructive.

"A move to a system that would be more enforcement- based would prompt some caution on the part of companies," McKay said.

"We would have to consider what the possible repercussions of having that open a discussion, in a system that's more heavily focused on enforcement, would have on how our products roll out and how the privacy commissioner interprets our actions."

The House of Commons ethics committee has been studying the issue of privacy and social media since last spring.

It was proposed by New Democrat MP Charmaine Borg, who suggested at the time that many Canadians aren't aware of the large volumes of information collected on them by social media sites and search engines.

McKay told MPs that Google doesn't keep dossiers on individuals but aggregates the data in order to form generalized profiles.

"We're certainly not Big Brother," MacKay said.

"We have the users' interest in mind and we're providing security controls for them that allow them to control their information."