The clash of data civilisations
Sharply differing attitudes towards privacy in Europe and America are a headache for the world’s internet giants
WATCHDOGS are growling at the web giants, and sometimes biting them. In May European data-protection agencies wrote to Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! demanding independent proof that they were making promised changes to protect the privacy of users’ search history. They also urged Google to store sensitive search data for only six months instead of nine.
In April ten privacy and data-protection commissioners from countries including Canada, Germany and Britain wrote a public letter to Eric Schmidt, Google’s boss, demanding changes in Google Buzz, the firm’s social-networking service, which had been criticised for dipping into users’ Gmail accounts to find “followers” for them without clearly explaining what it was doing. Google promptly complied.
Such run-ins with regulators are likely to multiply – and limit the freedom of global internet firms. It is not just that online privacy has become a controversial issue. More importantly, privacy rules are national, but data flows lightly and instantly across borders, often thanks to companies like Google and Facebook, which manage vast databases.
From: The Economist