Offener Brief an Google

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Dear Mr Fleischer,

in your letter dated June 10th [1] to the Chairman of Article 29 Working Party, Mr Peter Schaar, you claim that data protection is one of Google's main interests. We appreciate your willingness to improve protection of your customers privacy. Even so we are strongly concerned about Google's ongoing violation of European law.

You argue that it would not be possible to preserve your interests in security, innovation and fraud-resistance without storing personal data such as IP addresses, search logs and user behaviour for a minimum of 18 months at least. However in a democratic society it is up to Parliament and not commercial enterprises to balance the users' and the providers' needs.

For example German law specifically prohibits the retention of personal data unless it is needed for billing purposes. As most services offered by Google are free of charge, storing personal data obtained from these services is therefore illegal. Local laws are applicable to Google, and the level of data protection should follow the laws of the country with the strictest protection of privacy.

We do fully accord with your questioning of the EU Data Retention Directive. However, the directive is limited to E-Mail, Message Services and VoIP services on the Internet and does not apply to your search engine, for example. There is no reason why Google should bow to obligations that do not exist.

You give examples of why data retention is supposed to be necessary for the operation of Google services. Of course analysing user trends may be necessary for software like Google Spell Checker, but anonymised data would be absolutely sufficient for this purpose. Additionally, the protection of your servers against criminal attacks does not justify a blanket collection of personal data of all customers. Retaining data on a case by case basis is sufficient as demonstrated by several large websites in Germany that have long operated without logging any personally identifiable data. In any case, the retention of data does not, by itself, prevent or stop attacks. Moreover, dealing with fraud is the business of public prosecutors, not of private companies. Prosecutors may order the collection and preservation of data when needed.

Finally, we would like to remind you of how dangerous extensive data collection can potentially be. As a world-wide operating company, Google should be well aware that not all countries in the world are democracies. Data collected by private companies can be and is being abused by totalitarian regimes. We wonder how it is possible to pervasively filter Google search results for Chinese users while anonymising search strings is supposed to compromise the operation of Google services. Furthermore we know that intelligence agencies - even in democratic societies - use (or more accurately abuse) the data you collect in order to spy on human rights or environmental NGOs, on legitimate protest groups and local activists. The only way to prevent abuse is to refrain from collecting personally identifiable data in the first place.

For the time being, you should at least consider opening anonymous gateways to your services such as the Google search engine. We are confident that offering services without retaining identifiable data during a test phase will convince you that the security of your services will not be compromised. It may even generate business from users who currently refuse using your services because of your blanket retention practices. [2]

Concluding, we demand you stay loyal to your company motto: Don't be evil. Prevent human rights violations by not storing personally identifiable data of your users!

Sincerely,
Working Group on Data Retention

[1] http://64.233.179.110/blog_resources/Google_response_Working_Party_06_2007.pdf
[2] http://www.privacyinternational.org/issues/internet/interimrankings.pdf

[edit] Pressemitteilung

Siehe: Internetnutzer kritisieren Googles Datenhunger und fordern anonyme Nutzungsmöglichkeit

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