By Ryan Paul | Published: September 14, 2007 – 08:46AM CT
Complying with the broad assortment of disparate and potentially conflicting privacy laws already in place is a costly burden for businesses that use the Internet to operate globally. Streamlining those regulations and establishing global standards would certainly simplify the compliance process, but determining an adequate standard that balances the desires of law enforcement, consumers, and businesses around the globe will pose a challenge.
Google retains a tremendous amount of personal information that could be used for identity theft and all sorts of other nefarious purposes if it were to fall into the wrong hands. Although some politicians are keen on legislation that would impose limits on data retention in order to protect consumer privacy, law enforcement agencies are insisting that data needs to be retained longer. Data retention duration is just one of many issues that will require some difficult compromises.
In July, Google competitors Microsoft and Ask.com collectively called for industry standards for search privacy. The approach taken by Microsoft and Ask.com seems to be market-oriented, whereas Google seems more interested in government standards.
Google’s interest in creating new privacy standards may relate to the company’s plan to acquire advertising company DoubleClick, a deal that is viewed with concern and hostility by privacy advocates. Establishing strong privacy standards could reassure consumers and lawmakers who might otherwise want to block the DoubleClick acquisition.
Google’s chief privacy officer Peter Fleischer denies that DoubleClick is a factor in this effort, though. “People look to us to show some leadership and be constructive,” Fleischer told the Associated Press. “To be effective, privacy laws need to go global…But for those laws to be observed and effective, a realistic set of standards must emerge. It is absolutely imperative that these standards are aligned to today’s commercial realities and political needs, but they must also reflect technological realities.”
Fleischer also said that he has been discussing the prospect of international privacy standards with Microsoft, Yahoo, and European government representatives.
The success of an international privacy standards initiative will depend on support from many stakeholders, and Google’s plan may prove too ambitious. Regardless of whether or not Google’s plan succeeds, competition in the search and web services space will hopefully continue to promote big improvements in company privacy policies, even without a worldwide agreement.