Trust Us, We're The Googlement …
… For Google, privacy did not begin and does not end with our acquisition of DoubleClick. And we believe that privacy for legislators, regulators, privacy groups and other stakeholders shouldn’t begin or end with Google. Privacy is a serious issue that spans several industries from financial services to entertainment to e-commerce, and that ought to be addressed holistically in the interest of individuals throughout Europe and the world. One particular company–and certainly one particular merger–should not be singled out.”
–Peter Fleischer, Google’s Global Privacy Counsel
The Federal Trade Commission’s decision to approve Google’s proposed $3.1 billion acquisition of online ad-serving vendor DoubleClick without condition hasn’t exactly elicited resounding calls of huzzah! from the European Union. On the contrary, European parliamentarians seem out to spoil the deal.
At a hearing before the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee to discuss the legality of search companies’ privacy policies, talk quickly turned to the acquisition and its potential impact on citizens’ online privacy. Seems a few of the EU’s top privacy regulators feel that IP, or Internet Protocol, addresses should be protected as personal information when they can be used to identify an individual on a computer network. Google, which uses IP addresses to identify users’ geographical location, among other things, disagrees.
After first upbraiding the committee for attempting to shoehorn a privacy case into a competition law review, Peter Fleischer, Google’s Global Privacy Counsel, pointed out that IP addresses aren’t always personally identifiable. “There is no black or white answer: Sometimes an IP address can be considered as personal data and sometimes not,” he said. “It depends on the context and which personal information it reveals.” And this is true to some extent, but becoming less so as we move toward Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6).
Of course, were IP addresses to be categorized as personal information, Google would have a more difficult time delivering relevant search results and, more importantly, ads. Which, as Dutch parliamentarian Sophie in ‘t Veld pointed out is the real reason Google is arguing so vehemently against treating IP addresses as sensitive personal data. “The reason you want to have the data is because it gives you a competitive advantage,” she said. “It is business. I don’t think they can be completely disconnected. And we should discuss that side of things too. … Having that much information is market power.”