Google reveals data privacy approach

Three-step process for each request

Google has explained the process it uses to deal with government data requests, in a new blog to mark Data Privacy Day.

Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond asserted that Google receives "dozens" of these requests every day, usually from government agencies as part of an investigation.

While Google readily accepted that this may in some cases be necessary and important, it also suggested that it goes to great lengths to ensure user information is not revealed as part of "overly broad" requests.

The search engine went on to outline exactly how it responds to each query, with three steps taken to ensure each request is dealt with properly.

Electronic Communications Privacy Act

This is something that Google says it has long campaigned for, as the most desirable application of such an Act in the US would see electronic documents afforded the same protection as those kept on paper at home.

Studying the request

Google says that it will then carry four key checks before deciding to what extent they will comply with the request:

  • It must satisfy the law and Google's own policies, which will usually involve a request in writing, signed by a recognised official and submitted under an appropriate law.
  • If Google finds a request to be overly broad, they may ask for it to be narrowed. Google's blog suggests that this is a common occurrence.
  • Unless it is prohibited from doing so by law, or it does not have the relevant contact details, Google will always inform the user of the request.
  • Google will not give up any information unless presented with a warrant.

Informing the user

Google's blog also emphasises the lengths it goes to in order to keep users informed about the way these data requests work. For example, a recent Transparency Report showed how government data requests are on the rise.

Mr Drummond ended the blog by saying: "We're proud of our approach, and we believe it's the right way to make sure governments can pursue legitimate investigations while we do our best to protect your privacy and security."

Daniel Nolan, managing director at theEword, said: "With this blog, Google will be hoping to reassure users as online privacy becomes an increasingly hot topic. It seems clear that they have systems in place, but it remains to be seen whether users will feel it is enough."

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