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Google Faces Heat for Privacy Policies

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Google campus in Mountain View.

Google is under fire from the European Union and Microsoft for its privacy practices. The conflict between such large players is fueling debate about privacy on the Internet.
        
On Monday, French regulators announced the European Union will take "repressive action" against Google, charging the company has failed to adequately explain how it shares user data. The French data privacy agency, CNIL, can impose fines of up to 300,000 euros. 
 
Last year, Google issued a new privacy policy and announced that by default, it will track and combine individuals' information and usage data when they use more than one of Google's dozens of Internet services. So, if you surf the web on Google's Chrome browser, send messages via Gmail, set up appointments with its calendar service, and check traffic conditions on Google Maps, the company is watching. It says it uses the data to deliver more refined search and advertising results--and even says it could use the information for services like alerting users who look like  looks like they'lll be late for  appointments.
 
But all databasing that information might go further than many people want it to, says Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University.
 
“Arguably (the database) violates some of the contextual expectations of the users,” Goldman says. “They've signed up for service A. They may have independently made a choice to sign up for Service B. They may not want A and B to talk to each other."
 
Meanwhile, Microsoft is waging a media campaign against Google, with a website delicately named Scroogled! It criticizes the search giant for digging through Gmail messages for advertising keywords.
 
"Both the EU and Microsoft are Google haters, but possibly for different reasons," Goldman says. 
 
Microsoft has seen Google and others erode its monopoly position in the operating-system and productivity software market, and "it's fighting tooth and nail to try and find a way to get it back," Goldman says. "The European privacy community, they're concerned that the Internet services are not being sufficiently protective of consumer privacy."
 
European regulators have asked Google to stop combining user data when it's not legally justified, and to delete personal data periodically.
 
In an email statement, Google says, "Our privacy policy respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services. We have engaged fully with the CNIL throughout this process, and we’ll continue to do so going forward."
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