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    International Stories about Facebook, Google and European Privacy

    Here are some international news stories that were published while I was on break. These stories discuss privacy and social-networking company Facebook, online services giant Google, and legal issues in Europe.

    Bloomberg News: Google Given Chance to Settle Belgian Case Over Street View

    Bloomberg News has an update on Google’s privacy problems over its Street View program. To recap: A couple years ago, Google came under considerable fire for its Street View product, where the online services giant photographed homes and other buildings in numerous countries as part of its online mapping service, as individuals said the photos invaded their privacy. Then, last year, Google announced that, for more than three years — in more than 30 countries — it had been “mistakenly collecting” personal data from open WiFi networks as its vehicles roamed the streets taking photos for its Street View mapping service.

    Later, the company admitted the data collected — without individuals’ knowledge or consent — did include entire e-mails and passwords. The online services giant faced questions from states, and Google reached a settlement with Connecticut over the data collection. There were international investigations and investigations by US federal agencies, as well. It was also recently revealed that Street View collected the location data of laptops, cellphones and other devices.

    Now, Bloomberg reports:

    Google Inc. (GOOG) was offered the chance to pay Belgian authorities a penalty of 150,000 euros ($215,700) to settle a data-privacy case concerning the collection of wireless Internet data through its Street View service.

    Belgium’s federal prosecutor today said Google breached a national law by illegally intercepting communication when it collected private data with its Street View cars. The owner of the most popular search engine has three months to accept the Aug. 12 proposal or the case may be taken to court, which has the power to impose higher fines and a prison sentence. […]

    Google has been targeted by data-protection agencies across the European Union for its Street View program, which lets users click on maps to see photographs of roadsides. It was fined 100,000 euros in France for violating the country’s privacy rules. The Dutch data protection agency last week said it may fine Google as much as 750,000 euros if the company doesn’t comply with its demands. The U.K. privacy watchdog said on Aug. 16 that the Mountain View, California-based company has taken “reasonable steps” to improve its privacy policies following a U.K. audit.

    Equality and Human Rights Commission: Commission says information privacy laws are flawed

    The Equality and Human Rights Commission has released a new report, “Protecting Information Privacy” (pdf), “that shows current privacy law is failing to stop breaches of personal data privacy and is not keeping pace with the rapid growth in personal data collection.”

    The report shows that the way government and its agencies collect, use and store personal data is deeply flawed. They may be unaware that they are breaking the law as the complexity of the legal framework means their obligations are unclear.

    It also finds that it is difficult for people to know what information is held on them, by which government agency or private sector body, or how it is being used. For example, as there is currently no law regulating the use of CCTV cameras it would be very difficult for someone to find which organisations hold footage of them. […]

    In response to the report’s findings, the Commission is making three recommendations to government:

    • streamline the current legislation on information privacy so that it is easier for organisations to understand their responsibilities and simpler for citizens to know and use their rights.
    • ensure that public bodies and others have to properly justify why they need someone’s personal data and for what purpose. Any requirement to use personal data for any purpose other than for which it was collected should go through a vetting process. Organisations should ensure they comply with the current data protection and RIPA regimes, in addition to the Human Rights Act.
    • all public bodies should carefully consider the impact on information privacy of any new policy or practice and ensure that all requests for personal data are justified and proportionate.

    The Local (Germany): Facebook ‘like’ button declared illegal

    Facebook’s ubiquitous ‘like’ button found on countless websites in Germany was declared in violation of the country’s strict privacy laws by a state data protection official on Friday.

    Thilo Weichert, who works for the data protection centre of the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, said the social network’s application allowing internet users to express their appreciation of something online, illegally cobbled together a profile of their web habits.

    “Facebook can trace every click on a website, how long I’m on it, what I’m interested in,” he said. According to Weichert, all the information was sent to the US company even if someone was not a Facebook member.

    Saying this contravened both German and EU privacy laws, Weichert demanded websites in Schleswig-Holstein remove the ‘like’ button from their offerings by the end of September or face a fine of up to €50,000. […]

    Facebook rejected Weichert’s claim and said in a statement that the website’s social plug-ins were in compliance with European data protection laws. The company admitted the ‘like’ button could pass on information such as user IP addresses, but said the data was deleted after 90 days as per industry standard.

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