John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

French Data Regulators to Google: How About Making Your Answers to Our Questions Universally Accessible and Useful?

The Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), the French data-protection authority investigating Google’s new privacy policy on behalf of the European Union’s 27 member states, isn’t getting the kind of cooperation it would like from the search sovereign. And its patience with the company is wearing thin. So much so that it has publicly upbraided Google for its lack of forthrightness in responding to the agency’s questionnaires about the new policy.

In a letter to Google CEO Larry Page, CNIL head Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin said she’s reviewed Google’s response to its questions and found them to be sorely lacking — in clarity and specifics.

Answers, too.

“For a large number of questions, the elements provided do not give a precise, clear and comprehensive response to our questions,” Falque-Pierrotin wrote. “While in some cases the questions themselves may have been misunderstood or not clearly expressed, many answers merely provide illustrative examples without describing the exact [processes], procedures or systems Google actually operates.”

In other words, Google’s answers to CNIL’s questions were often incomplete or approximate. And while Falque-Pierrotin generously offers that this might be the result of poor communication, it’s hard to accept that as a legitimate explanation. At this point, the CNIL has clarified its questions to Google twice — once in writing, and a second time during the in-person meeting with Google executives that evidently preceded her letter. During that same meeting, Google was given a third version of the questionnaire, and a June 8 deadline to answer it.

Are we really to believe that Google — a company that prides itself on hiring PhDs, that once sought out cream-of-the-crop engineers with a “mind-bending” Google Labs Aptitude Test, whose mission “is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” — can’t properly answer a few questions about its privacy practices and handling of consumer data?

Because that’s about as likely as Larry Page faking his Master’s degree in computer science.

A more reasonable explanation: Google not only doesn’t want to answer these questions, it doesn’t even believe it is obligated to do so. Indeed, it essentially said as much back in April, when it specifically questioned the authority of the CNIL and the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party to even investigate it. From Google’s April 5, 2012, response to the CNIL:

1) What is the legal basis for the Working Party to act as a regulatory body, or to mandate the CNIL to conduct a regulatory review on behalf of 26 other independent DPAs?
2) What law is being applied to this review?
3) Could the Working Party explain the process being followed and the ultimate aim of the review?

Questions respectfully asked, certainly. But they clearly reflect an uncooperativeness and, more to the point, an overweening arrogance that’s so prevalent these days that it might as well be one of Google’s hallowed “10 Things We Know To Be True.” As Christian Sandvig, a researcher in communications technology and public policy at the University of Illinois, recently told the New York Times in an article on that very subject, “Google doesn’t seem to think it ever will be held accountable. And to date it hasn’t been.”

Google did not respond to a request for comment.

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