Google to change privacy policy following investigation

Google has agreed to change its privacy policy in the UK after an investigation by a data protection regulator found its guidelines were too vague.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said that it had required Google to sign a “formal undertaking” to better inform users about how it handles their personal information.

“This undertaking marks a significant step forward following a long investigation and extensive dialogue. Google’s commitment today to make these necessary changes will improve the information UK consumers receive when using their online services and products,” said Steve Eckersley, head of enforcement at the ICO, in a statement.

The investigation was prompted by a new privacy policy introduced by Google in March 2012 that combined around 70 existing policies into one and merged data collected on individual users across its services, including YouTube and Gmail.

“While our investigation concluded that this case hasn’t resulted in substantial damage and distress to consumers, it is still important for organisations to properly understand the impact of their actions and the requirement to comply with data protection law,” added Eckersley.

Google committed to make further changes to the privacy policy to ensure it meets the requirements of the Data Protection Act by 30 June, including user testing.

"This investigation has identified some important learning points not only for Google, but also for all organisations operating online, particularly when they seek to combine and use data across services,” said Eckersley.

“It is vital that there is clear and effective information available to enable users to understand the implications of their data being combined.”

The announcement came after regulators in Spain and France fined Google $1.02m and $169,500 respectively over loose privacy policies.

The ICO said it plans to update its Privacy Notices Code Practice later this year to provide organisations with further guidance about how to provide effective privacy information, particularly in online and mobile environments.

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