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Google and the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office released a jointly signed agreement regarding upcoming changes to Google’s privacy policy. This puts to rest a years long disagreement between the two parties over the policy, originating in 2012 when Google rolled out a significantly altered privacy policy across all its services.

The ICO is a regulatory body whose purpose is “to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.” The ICO ensures that anyone with access to personal information complies with the 8 principles found in the Data Protection Act. Google was found to not adequately meet these principles, and in particular its privacy policy was not specific or detailed enough about how and why personal data was being collected.

After much back and forth discussion they eventually reached an agreement, the full details of which can be found here. The complete text of the agreement is fairly lengthy. Much of it gives the history and events leading up to this agreement, detailing the dates of Google’s change in privacy policy as well as the ongoing dialogue between Google and the ICO. It is only near the end when it describes the actual changes that will be made by Google.

One of the provisions of the agreement is that Google will enact all the changes detailed in Annex 1 by June 30, 2015. Annex 1 is a section at the very end of the document which contains a long list of provisions. For the most part these provisions require the privacy policy to be easier for users to find and understand. Google must provide to users a complete list of the types of data being collected and the purpose for that collection. Google must also provide information on any third parties collecting information through Google properties and for what purpose.

Among the other provisions, Google agrees to keep the privacy policy under review, so that if there is any change to its data processing activities, users can be promptly informed. Google also agrees to cooperate with the ICO, providing them with advanced notice of any significant changes to the privacy policy, a well as replying promptly to any inquiries by the ICO. Finally Google must provide a report to the ICO by August 2015, detailing the steps it has taken to abide by this agreement.

Overall this agreement brings a new level of transparency to Google’s data collection and processing activities. It requires disclosing to the users a very high degree of detail about how and why data is being collected. For people who actually read the privacy policy, this will allow them to make an informed decision. While this specific agreement applies to the UK, Google is in talks with regulators in countries throughout the EU, and its likely that these changes or similar ones will end up being implemented in those countries as well.

How do you feel about Google’s upcoming changes to its privacy policy? Leave your comments below.

Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.

  • chaoguy

    Somehow I feel uneasy.

    The current UK PM (David Cameron) has pushed for anti-privacy a lot. Not to mention Google has been heinous in the past over the NSA revelations. Unless Google tries to hide the truth in a mass of text, and someone calls them out on it, I doubt anything will change.

    We’ll still get red tape and promises. At the end of they day, if they don’t get caught and no one makes a fuss, they think it’s not illegal.

    Great article, thanks for sieving out the key info.

  • “Not to mention Google has been heinous in the past over the NSA revelations”

    I cannot see what Google could have done differently, given they would be in direct violation of US law if they came clean about what the NSA required them to do. I think one needs to focus one’s ire on the US and UK governments rather than Google on that score.

  • ArsCortica

    Did the UK government just push for something that does not further the mass-surveillance of its own citizens? Am I in some kind of Bizarro dimension?

  • Max

    The ICO gets its mandate from a law that dates back to 1998, so its not like a recent change in policy by the UK. I think the main point to remember is that just because the government stands up for privacy against corporations like Google, doesn’t mean it will stop the government’s own mass surveillance.

  • chaoguy

    Fair point. It’s a catch-22 scenario. Only question remains is if Google were reluctant, or happy to do so? I doubt we’ll ever know that though.

  • There is only downside from Google’s point of view, it costs them public trust and it gains them absolutely nothing. So it is hard to see them being enthusiastic about the NSA or GCHQ.