HK watchdog joins campaign against Google

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 March, 2012, 12:00am


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The city's privacy watchdog is joining its counterparts around the world to oppose Google's new privacy policy, which comes into effect today.

The search engine giant announced in January that more than 60 privacy policies for its different services would be combined into one main policy. That would mean, for example, that data gleaned from a Gmail account would be linked to the user's account on the video-sharing service YouTube or their Android smartphone.

Privacy Commissioner Allan Chiang Yam-wang said the move was intended to help Google target its advertising by understanding users' web-browsing habits. But he, along with counterparts elsewhere in Asia, in the European Union and in the United States, believes users should have a choice of whether their data was shared.

'There is no problem them enhancing the efficiency of their advertising service, but they also need to maintain the autonomy of individual customers' he said. 'For example, if I do not want to combine all my data in your services, is there any convenient means for me to opt out?'

When users log in to Google services they are given the option of either accepting the new privacy policy or simply not using the services. Chiang said it was impossible to avoid Google's services these days as they were ubiquitous.

The devil was in the detail, Chiang said, pointing out that the new privacy policy terms did not include a clause, offered by some Google services, under which users' data would be deleted within 60 days.

Chiang said he had written to Google asking it to clarify the change and to give users the option of not sharing their data.

He said privacy watchdogs around the world were also putting pressure on Google by launching investigations or writing to the company. He is in close touch with his counterparts.

Chiang said Google's means of gaining consent for the changes might have breached Hong Kong's Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, but said communication with the company was likely to be a better way of resolving the problem.

Google did not reply to questions last night.

Meanwhile, Chiang said that a proposal to put the details of 600 people who had owed the government more than HK$100,000 in student loans for more than a year into the credit reference system would open a loophole, allowing all government departments and the private sector to abuse a system designed for the use of banks.

The data would be shared among banks and financial institutions.

A public consultation closed yesterday. A survey commissioned by the watchdog found that only 35 per cent out of 270 people interviewed supported the proposal and had sent the report to Education Bureau.

An Education Bureau spokesman said it had received more than 1,780 responses to the proposal and would consider them.


The number of users that Google says were attracted in the first seven months by Plus, its challenge to Facebook