EU Backs Delay in Google’s Privacy Policy

BRUSSELS — The top justice official in the European Union on Friday backed a request by E.U. governments that Google halt changes to its privacy policies while national data-protection authorities investigate the implications for citizens and users.

In a statement e-mailed Friday to the International Herald Tribune, Viviane Reding, the E.U. justice commissioner, called on the European authorities “to ensure that E.U. law is fully complied with in Google’s new privacy policy”

Google said this month it would combine more than 60 privacy policies for some of its separate products, including Android software for mobile phones, to create a simple system for users that also satisfied the wishes of regulators. The changes are due to take effect March 1.

On Thursday, representatives of national data-protection authorities wrote to Larry Page, the chief executive of Google, to “call for a pause in the interests of ensuring that there can be no misunderstanding about Google’s commitments to information rights of their users and E.U. citizens.”

In backing the E.U. governments’ position, Ms. Reding wrote that the pause and investigation would help give “legal certainty for citizens and businesses.”

Google said Friday it was prepared to answer any questions raised by the investigation but gave no indication that it would delay the changes.

The company suggested that any delay instituting the new policy would harm rather than help consumers.

“As part of announcing our new privacy policy, we’ve made the largest communication to users in our history,” it said. “Delaying the new policy would cause significant confusion.”

The investigation is the latest challenge to Google in Europe. The European Commission, the E.U. executive agency, already is investigating the giant Internet search and advertising company for possible breaches of antitrust laws. The commission could send formal charges to Google this spring.

In recent years European authorities have also been disturbed by the way Google has treated privacy issues in Germany and in other countries related to its Street View mapping service and by the ramifications of Google’s project to digitize books.

The letter to Google came from a so-called Article 29 Working Party representing the 27 national data protection authorities across the Union. The name comes from the E.U. directive on data protection that establishes the group.

The working party is advisory and has no enforcement powers, so any pressure on Google to make changes would need to be exerted through the 27 national authorities.

The French national regulator, the National Commission for Computing and Civil Liberties, known as CNIL, will coordinate the investigation. The CNIL did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“Given the wide range of services you offer, and popularity of these services, changes in your privacy policy may affect many citizens in most or all of the E.U. member states,” Jacob Kohnstamm, the chairman of the working party, wrote to Mr. Page.

“We wish to check the possible consequences for the protection of the personal data of these citizens in a coordinated procedure,” Mr. Kohnstamm wrote.

Google said the company had “briefed most of the members of the working party in the weeks leading up to our announcement” and that “none of them expressed substantial concerns at the time.”

David Jolly contributed reporting from Paris.

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