Google, the Ultimate Private Intelligence Agency, Is Raising EU's Ire

NEWS ANALYSIS: Google's privacy policies allow the company to collect information about anyone and to combine information from a wide variety of sources into an overall, highly detailed profile that tells everything there is to know about you. However, Google will soon have to come to terms with the European Union's privacy laws, which ban this kind of comprehensive data collection about it citizens.

One of the secrets to really effective spying is to collect all available information about your target, no matter how mundane or trivial. This approach has been used by government intelligence agencies since the beginning of spies. The CIA and NSA collect vast quantities of such information, and they have been doing this since their inception.

But now it€™s Google that€™s playing the same role, not so that it can ferret out terrorists or destroy Iranian uranium centrifuges again, but so the company and its clients can sell you stuff. But the process is the same. If you gather enough information that€™s available to you through any means, you don€™t need to break into the secret stuff. You can figure it out just by analyzing what€™s out there in the wild.

This intelligence gathering, whether by a governmental intelligence agency or Google, is normally very labor-intensive. But these days computers are doing the heavy lifting. The bottom line is that Google probably knows more about you than you know about yourself€”even if you don€™t use any of Google€™s products.

This has investigators in the European Union worried. It€™s also why the government of France has asked its privacy commission to look into Google€™s information gathering policies on behalf of the EU. The CNIL (Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés) sent Google a series of questions about its privacy policy and in April got the same non-answers that the U.S. government got from Google earlier this year.

Unlike the FCC, which is the U.S. agency that was asking Google about its information gathering practices, the CNIL has some actual teeth. Where the FCC had no means to compel answers from Google and no investigatory staff for follow up, the EU has both. In the EU, where the memories of secret police spying and obsessive dossier-keeping are still fresh, privacy rules have the force of law. If the EU regulators feel that Google is breaking the law in the EU, they can compel Google to change its ways with fines and possibly restrictions to its operations.

The matter was made worse when Google defied the request of the EU government to delay the implementation of its privacy policy until it could confirm that Google was in compliance with European laws. Google simply went ahead and did what it wanted.

It€™s worth noting that the privacy rules in the EU are quite a bit different from those in the U.S. A private company simply cannot share personal information with anyone. They cannot collect information without specific permission, and personal information cannot be held or transmitted beyond the borders of the EU.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...