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January 28, 2013

Google announces new initiatives to better protect user privacy

In light of data privacy day, the search giant promises to increase its efforts in protecting user online information.

By Tineka Smith

The new initiatives aim to create a stricter process for handling data request from government agencies.

"If it’s like most other days, Google — like many companies that provide online services to users — will receive dozens of letters, faxes and emails from government agencies and courts around the world requesting access to our users’ private account information," said Google in a blog post. "Typically this happens in connection with government investigations.

"It’s important for law enforcement agencies to pursue illegal activity and keep the public safe. We’re a law-abiding company, and we don’t want our services to be used in harmful ways. But it’s just as important that laws protect you against overly broad requests for your personal information."

Google plans to implement three initiatives to better protect consumers when data requests are made.

The company says requests must be in line with the law and Google’s policies. Data requests will not be considered unless they are made in writing, signed by an authorised official from the agency and issued under the correct law.

If the request is too abroad they may refuse to company or seek to narrow the request. The company says this is a frequent occurrence.

Users will be notified about legal demands when appropriate so they can contact the agency requesting it or consult a lawyer.

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Google has also pointed out that if data requested is related to a criminal investigation, governments will need to use a search warrant to receive access to a person’s gmail messages, documents, photos or YouTube videos.

The company has added a section to their transparency report to answer questions consumers might have.

"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," said the company.

Google has been an advocate for updating lows like the U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act and plans to this agenda strongly in 2013.

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