Europe's Google privacy verdict delayed

European data protection officials will not pass verdict on Google's privacy policies until early 2008, an official has said. The Article 29 Working Party met this week and decided to delay issuing an opinion while it widened its investigation.

The Working Party is a collection of Europe's data protection authorities, and it has been critical of Google's privacy policies, particularly in relation to the storing of data which links people to their search engine queries.

Google dominates internet search across Europe and the Working Party launched an investigation into the company's privacy policies and intends to publish an opinion on them. But an official told Reuters news agency that it would not be published for some months.

"We have written to Google to say that we are continuing our work, that it is not limited to Google, and that we will adopt an opinion at the beginning of 2008," an official told Reuters following this week's meeting. "We want to adopt a comprehensive opinion, saying how long they can keep data, and which ones."

Google provoked a storm of protest early this year when it said that it would no longer keep search identifiers indefinitely, and would delete them after between 18 and 24 months. That announcement only highlighted the fact that the identifiers were kept at all, and led to condemnation even of the reduced retention period.

Google compromised, saying it would delete the records after 18 months, but privacy officials still said that there was no need to keep records for that long.

Google privacy chief Peter Fleischer said that it had to keep the records because the EU's Data Retention Directive mandated it. However, a data protection official has said that the Directive does not apply to those records.

"The Data Retention Directive applies only to providers of publicly available electronic communications services or of public communication networks and not to search engine systems," senior EU data protection official Philippos Mitletton told OUT-LAW.COM. "Accordingly, Google is not subject to this Directive as far as it concerns the search engine part of its applications and has no obligations thereof."