Page last updated at 21:45 GMT, Tuesday, 3 June 2008 22:45 UK

Google accused over privacy law

By Maggie Shiels
BBC News, Silicon Valley

Google conference
Google says that its privacy policy is easy to find

Privacy groups are accusing Google of violating California law in its reluctance to provide a direct link to its privacy policy on its homepage.

The search engine giant is being asked to write the word "privacy" alongside other information links.

"It's a short, seven-letter word and in the world of privacy it's a very important word," said Beth Givens of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Google says its policy is easy to find and it gives "accessible information".

'Not rocket science'

The issue has been building momentum following a series of blogs in the New York Times questioning Google's compliance with the California Online Privacy Protection Act of 2003.

The law requires any commercial website that collects personal information about its users to "conspicuously post its privacy policy on its website".

Google conference
Privacy organisations have written a joint letter to Google

Google maintains that it already does and that its privacy policy can be found by going through its search engine or by clicking on "About Google".

In a conference call, a coalition of privacy organisations told journalists that was not good enough and that it had written to Google.

The groups involved include the Electronic Privacy Information Centre, the World Privacy Forum, Consumer Action, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU of Northern California.

Ms Givens, of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, said: "I went through the exercise of finding [Google's] privacy policy and it's not easy. It's not intuitive and it's not a couple of clicks. You have to work at it.

"The Google privacy policy prints out to five pages. It's something I think they would be proud to point to. It's a hefty privacy policy."

Mark Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre in Washington said: "This is not rocket science. The word 'privacy' is not going to take up a lot of space on the Google homepage."

'Constructive dialogue'

The groups told the BBC that writing to Google publicly was not an exercise in naming and shaming but aimed at getting Google to act in compliance with the law.

"We want to open a constructive dialogue with Google," said Pam Dixon of the World Privacy Forum.

"I think this is a reasonable approach. We have sent a reasonable letter. It is a letter without a 'gotcha' quality."

Mr Rotenberg added: "Our hope is that this can be quickly resolved."

Google admits that privacy information should be easy to access and understand, and says it believes it fulfils that requirement.

In its statement, the company said: "In addition to offering a Privacy Centre with our privacy policy and other important information, we also created a YouTube privacy channel with videos explaining our practices and products."

The company says it "ran an ad campaign to draw consumers to our privacy information, posted several blogs that explain our privacy practices in detail and posted detailed frequently-asked questions to help consumers understand the complex aspects of privacy".

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