Privacy International defends the right to privacy across the world, and fights surveillance and other intrusions into private life by governments and corporations. Read more »


PI files complaints in sixteen countries against Google Mail

The global watchdog Privacy International has today simultaneously filed complaints against Google's controversial Gmail service with privacy regulators in sixteen countries.

The move creates Google's biggest challenge yet in the short but turbulent public debate over its new email service.

Complaints have been filed with the privacy and data protection regulators of France, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Spain, Czech Republic, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Portugal, Poland, Austria, Australia and Canada along with the European Commission and the EU Commissioners internal Article 29 Data Protection Working Group.

Privacy International alleges that the Gmail service violates privacy law, both in Europe and in other countries. The complaint identifies a wide range of possible breaches of EU law. The 4,000 word complaint levels numerous charges against the new service, including:

  • Inadequacy, unfairness and lack of safeguards or redress in the Gmail Terms of Use
  • An absence of contractual commitment to the security of data
  • Breaches of law concerning the interception and scanning of emails
  • Absence of adequate customer control over data
  • Breaches of law concerning indefinite and unspecified retention of deleted emails
  • Confidentiality issues
  • Violation of the rights of third parties
  • Breaches of legal conditions relating to offshore processing of personal data
  • Fundamental problems in achieving lawful customer consent
  • Problems relating to the processing of Sensitive personal information

Privacy International had recently lodged a test complaint with the UK Information Commissioner. The Commissioner last week decided to delay taking action on the complaint after assurances from Google that the company would "consult" with officials before it offered the service in the UK.

Privacy International decided to take global action against Google after it became clear that a similar assurance to meet US privacy advocates was not honoured. The watchdog will lodge complaints with a further thirteen countries in the next two weeks.

Privacy International's Director, Simon Davies, warned Google that it should tread with great caution:

Google is showing its true colours. The company pays lip service to privacy but in this case has demonstrated no real commitment to it. I am beginning to suspect that Google looks at privacy in the same way that a worm looks at a fishhook. Google deservedly has a sound reputation for the quality and functionality of its traditional products. It would be a pity to see that reputation washed down the toilet because of hostility to privacy."

Davies challenged Google to "come out from its bunker and meet the advocates." "Company reputations stand or fall at moments like this" he added. "Google should face up to the privacy challenge and do the right thing by its customers. Otherwise the company's reputation will soon turn to dust".