Google Analytics under attack over privacy

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Germany's data watchdog raises concerns.

Google has defended its free Analytics web traffic service against arguments that it conflicts with web users' privacy.

The German ULD privacy commission has even suggested that the service breaks German laws.

Google Analytics, and similar web tracking services, could also be at risk after the passing of the European Union Telecoms Reform package this week, because it creates rules requiring web users to give explicit consent to the use of cookies.

However, so far it looks like Google will be safe from both assaults.

"Some data protection officials have lately addressed concerns about Google Analytics and we are completely confident that it complies with European data protection laws," said Google.

"Nonetheless, we are more than willing to further engage in a constructive dialogue with data protection [groups] and to answer their questions."

The EU could decide to water down the increased data privacy legislation regarding cookies by arguing that user consent could be given by browser settings, an interpretation of the law that would mean Google Analytics could operate unhindered.

IAB Europe, an internet advertising trade association, has assumed that this will be the case.

"Business now has a solid legal basis to rely on the browser settings when deploying cookies. This recognises the established practice that web users set their cookie preferences in their settings managers," said IAB Europe vice president Kimon Zorbas.

But Bridget Treacy, a lawyer for Hunton and Williams, said that although the Telecoms Package states that where technically possible consent may be expressed by using browser settings, “other tools or spyware that interfere with the user’s computer infrastructure will require separate explicit consent”.

These "tools" include Google Analytics because the product interferes with computer monitoring, she added.

The problem with the Analytics service in Germany is that it conflicts with privacy legislation that prohibits individuals' data leaving the country. However, Google points in its defence to the Safe Harbour treaty that allows data to flow between Europe and the US.

Customers using a company website that uses Google Analytics have their details passed to Google, often without their knowledge.

The ULD said in a statement that its doubts about how Google Analytics complies with privacy compliance legislation is not yet resolved.

"We have the regulators of the Federal and State Governments in conversation with Google," the organisation said.

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