Drawing upon its
clout as the Internet's most powerful company, Google
Inc. is calling on businesses and regulators throughout the
world to adopt international standards for protecting
consumer privacy online and offline.
The request, to
be unveiled Friday in France, comes as the online search
leader battles privacy concerns that threaten its plan to
buy Internet ad service DoubleClick Inc. for $3.1
Calif.-based Google, which already runs the
Internet's most lucrative marketing network, is
counting on the purchase to boost its profits by
helping to sell even more ads.
York-based DoubleClick collects information about the
Web surfing habits of consumers, an activity that has
stirred complaints from privacy watchdogs and prompted
antitrust regulators to take a closer look at Google's
retains information about search requests, which can
reveal intimate details about a person's health, finances,
sexual preferences, and other sensitive topics.
''I don't think
there is any question that Google is under enormous
pressure to come up with more meaningful privacy
standards,'' said Marc Rotenberg, executive director
of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a
strident critic of the DoubleClick deal.
Google's chief privacy officer, said the company's
privacy crusade has nothing to do with the DoubleClick deal.
''People look to
us to show some leadership and be constructive,''
Fleischer told a group of reporters a few hours before he
was scheduled to outline Google's privacy initiative
at a meeting of the United Nations Educational
Scientific and Cultural Organization in Strasbourg, France.
''By supporting global privacy standards, there will be a
debate and part of that debate will be what our
Google's call for
international privacy rules comes less than two months
after Microsoft Corp. and IAC/InterActiveCorp's Ask.com
jointly urged its rivals to collaborate an
Privacy laws now
vary widely from country to country, causing chronic
headaches for Internet companies like Google that operate
around the world. In the United States alone, dozens
of states have conflicting laws addressing privacy.
fourths of the world's population is ungoverned by any
concrete privacy laws, Fleischer said.
international privacy standard may be easier said than done,
said Lauren Weinstein, cofounder of People For Internet
Responsibility, a policy group.
people, and sovereign nations being sovereign nations,
there are always going to be very different views on privacy
matters,'' Weinstein said. ''Even if you can agree on
a basic concept, then you have to find a way to get it
into all the countries' laws. It doesn't seem like
this will be a short-term project.''
Eric Schmidt will underscore the company's hopes for more
uniform privacy protections in an upcoming public
appearance, Fleischer said. He declined to provide
further details about the timing or content of
Schmidt's planned remarks.
The company has
already met with rivals Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft, as well
as a few European regulators, to rally support for
international privacy rules, Fleischer said. He plans
to meet with Canada regulators later this month.
effective, privacy laws need to go global,'' Fleischer said
in his prepared remarks. ''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
offered few specifics on how to orchestrate an international
privacy accord. In his remarks, Fleischer said a privacy
framework developed by the 21-country Asia-Pacific
Economic Cooperation, or APEC, could provide a solid
foundation for a more far-reaching global approach.
principles emphasize security safeguards, imposing
limitations on how much personal information can be
collected, and a commitment to protect the integrity
of the data that is gathered. Fleischer acknowledged
one significant hurdle must be overcome: China, the world's
most populous country, doesn't support the APEC framework.
All the major
search engines have a financial motive to foster consumer
trust because they collect personal data so they can
customize online ads catering to the tastes and
interests of each visitor. The more relevant
that search engines can make ads, the more money they
stand to make.
from European regulators, Google got the privacy ball
rolling in a new direction earlier this year when it
announced plans to regularly remove key pieces of
personal information about the search requests stored
in its computers.
It then narrowed
its time frame for depersonalizing search requests from
as long as two years to 18 months, a standard that
Microsoft, which runs the third-most-popular search
engine, also has adopted.
operates the second-most-popular search engine, has gone
further by promising to scrub personal information within 13
months, a standard Time Warner Inc.'s AOL also
Ask.com is going even further by offering its users a
tool that will prevent search terms and the Internet
addresses of computers from being retained.
the search engines had been vague about how long they
hold on to the personal information logged from search