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Experts call for informed consent and transparency to be put at heart of data privacy changes


01 Mar 2012



Brussels, 29 February 2012: On the eve of major changes to Google’s privacy policies, data privacy experts told an event in Brussels that a lack of awareness of privacy policies is putting consumers’ personal information at risk of exploitation.

ICOMP (the Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace) hosted the event on Wednesday, entitled ‘Data Privacy and Profiling – How ‘Big Data’ is used to create your online identity’, which was attended by around 60 people, including regulators, MEPs, industry representatives, privacy groups and consumer protection organisations. 

Speakers at the event included Pamela Jones Harbour, a former US Federal Trade Commissioner, and Head of Fulbright & Jaworski LLP’s Privacy, Competition and Data Protection practice; Alexander Alvaro MEP, a Vice-President of the European Parliament; Jan Ostoja-Ostaszewski of the Cabinet of Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding; and Nick Pickles, Director of Big Brother Watch, a British privacy group.

With Google due to introduce major privacy policy changes tomorrow, Thursday 1 March, much of the debate centred on the implications of this move. Speakers highlighted that the European Union’s Article 29 Working Party, which represents data protection authorities, has twice requested that Google delay and re-think the changes to address concerns about privacy of internet users. 

Commenting on Google’s refusal to honour the Article 29 group’s request , Pamela Jones Harbour said: “As a former regulator, I am astonished at Google’s disdainful response to the Article 29 Working Party’s request for a ‘pause’ in implementation of the privacy policy change.  Companies that do not cooperate with regulators and appear arrogantly to consider themselves above the law usually come to rue such behaviour”.

Nick Pickles presented polling on knowledge in the UK of changes to Google’s privacy policy. 

He said: “The impact of Google’s new policy cannot be understated, but the public are in the dark about what the changes actually mean. Google is putting advertiser’s interests before user privacy and should not be rushing ahead before the public understand what the changes will mean. A simpler policy may make it easier for Google to exploit personal information, but it does not make the implications more transparent for users.”

There was debate on the use of customers’ private data for economic gain. This ‘big data’ can be used to create an online profile that is valuable to advertisers. Speakers also highlighted the need for privacy policies to be transparent and understandable to consumers, so that there is ‘informed consent’ for use of private data, and for there to be better coordination between authorities in Europe and the United States.

- ENDS -

Contacts: Auke Haagsma - ICOMP Director, +32 494 33 15 43 or Anna Tobur – ICOMP Secretariat, +32.488.30.26.59

Notes for editors:

1. For more information about ICOMP, go to

2. More information on the Big Brother Watch / YouGov poll is available at



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