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Sat, Sep 15, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Google calls for adoption of global privacy standards


Drawing upon its clout as the Internet's most powerful company, Google Inc is calling on businesses and regulators throughout the world to adopt international standards for protecting consumer privacy online and offline.

The request, which was to be unveiled in France yesterday, comes as Google battles fights privacy concerns that threaten its plan to buy New York-based Internet ad service DoubleClick Inc for US$3.1 billion.

Google, which already runs the Internet's most lucrative marketing network, is counting on the purchase to boost its profits by helping sell even more ads.

DoubleClick collects information about the Web surfing habits of consumers, an activity that has stirred complaints from privacy watchdogs and prompted antitrust regulators to take a closer look at Google's proposed acquisition.

Google already retains information about search requests, which can reveal intimate details about a person's health, finances, sexual preferences and other sensitive topics.

"I don't think there is any question that Google is under enormous pressure to come up with more meaningful privacy standards," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a strident critic of the DoubleClick deal.

Peter Fleischer, Google's chief privacy officer, said the company's privacy crusade has nothing to do with the DoubleClick deal.

"People look to us to show some leadership and be constructive," Fleischer told a group of reporters a few hours before he was scheduled to outline Google's privacy initiative at a meeting of the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization in Strasbourg, France.

"By supporting global privacy standards, there will be a debate and part of that debate will be what our motives are," he said.

Google's call for international privacy rules comes less than two months after Microsoft Corp and IAC/InterActiveCorp's Ask.com jointly urged its rivals to collaborate an industrywide standard.

Privacy laws now vary widely from country to country, causing chronic headaches for Internet companies like Google that operate around the world.

About three-fourths of the world's population is not governed by any concrete privacy laws, Fleischer said.

Creating an international privacy standard may be easier said than done, said Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People For Internet Responsibility, a policy group.

"People being people and sovereign nations being sovereign nations, there are always going to be very different views on privacy matters," Weinstein said. "Even if you can agree on a basic concept, then you have to find it a way to get into all the countries' laws. It doesn't seem like this will be a short-term project."

Google chairman Eric Schmidt will underscore the company's hopes for more uniform privacy protections in an upcoming public appearance, Fleischer said.

He declined to provide further details about the timing or content of Schmidt's planned remarks.

The company has already met with rivals Yahoo Inc and Microsoft, as well as a few European regulators to rally support for international privacy rules, he said.

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