Brussels: Google Inc., the most popular search engine, may face scrutiny in Europe over concerns that the company stores information on user’s Web searches for too long.
Google said it has been in contact with a European Union (EU) advisory group that is reviewing its privacy policies. In addition, the Norwegian Data Inspectorate may release the results of an investigation into the issue as soon as next week.
Privacy groups in the US and Europe are worried that search engines collect and store data when consumers make Internet queries. Google said on 13 March that it will wipe out user’s personal data from its Web-search records after two years to address concerns about online privacy.
“Data protection and user privacy go to the heart of our business and we take these issues very seriously,” Google privacy counsel Peter Fleischer said in a statement on 20 April. “Google complies with data protection regulation.”
A group of data protection experts in the 27-member EU “will prepare a letter” to Google on privacy issues, Hans Tischler, a deputy to Peter Schaar, chairman of the Article 29 Working Group, said in a telephone interview.
The group, which ensures that the bloc’s data protection rules are enforced and advises European lawmakers on privacy issues, may also discuss Google at a 19 June meeting in Brussels, Tischler said.
Separately, the Norwegian Data Inspectorate began probing Google’s storage system of people’s Internet addresses in January following concerns the practice breached national privacy laws.
The authority met with Fleischer at the end of January and will announce the results of its investigation by the end of next week, Bjorn Ofstad, the inspectorate’s legal adviser, said in a telephone interview.
“We had a very constructive meeting and on some issues we found agreement and on some we didn’t,” Ofstad said, adding he was not aware of a separate EU probe.
Norway, which is not a member of the 27-nation bloc, follows EU privacy laws closely and a negative decision by the agency next week may lead to collective action by several EU countries, Ofstad said.
“If they don’t follow our laws we might have to go together against Google,” said Ofstad.
Google has defended its users’ privacy in the past. Last year, the US was forced to scale back a request for search queries and Web addresses after Mountain View, California-based Google fought a subpoena.
Google’s data storage policy may come under increased scrutiny in the US following its 13 April announcement that it will buy DoubleClick Inc. for $3.1 billion. The acquisition bolsters Google’s efforts to expand beyond the plain-text ads it shows next to Internet search results. DoubleClick’s display ads often include pictures or video.
Microsoft Corporation and AT&T Inc. urged US regulators to review the purchase, saying it gives Google too much control in the Internet advertising market.