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Google bows to pressure, adds privacy link to home page

Google has added a link to its privacy policy from its sparse front page, bowing to pressure from privacy activists. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were involved in the decision, according to a Google executive.07 Jul 2008

Protesters had said that the link was a legal requirement, but Google had said that it was not prepared to add more words to its near-empty home page.

The company has relented and now the Google home page contains the word 'privacy' near the bottom and beside the copyright notice. The word is a link to a page containing all Google's privacy information.

Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience, said that Page and Brin told her that the link could be put on the home page only if another word was taken off.

"Google values our users' privacy first and foremost. Trust is the basis of everything we do, so we want you to be familiar and comfortable with the integrity and care we give your personal data," said Mayer in a Google blog post. "We added this link both to our homepage and to our results page to make it easier for you to find information about our privacy principles."

"Larry and Sergey told me we could only add this to the homepage if we took a word away - keeping the "weight" of the homepage unchanged at 28 [words]," she said. "Given that the new Privacy link fit best with legal disclaimers on the page, I looked to the copyright line. There, we dropped the word "Google" (realizing it was implied, obviously) and added the new privacy link alongside it."

The company has faced significant pressure over the issue. A coalition of US privacy and consumer groups wrote an open letter to the company earlier this year outlining its case that the link is a legal requirement.

Those groups said that the California Online Privacy Protection Act, a law passed in 2004, forces companies to publish a link to a privacy policy that. "a text link that hyperlinks to a Web page on which the actual privacy policy is posted [is sufficient] if the text link is located on the homepage or first significant page after entering the Web site," they quoted the law as saying.

In Europe, the Article 29 Working Party, an independent European advisory body on data protection and privacy, interpreted Europe's data protection regime as requiring such a link.

It published an opinion in April 2008 that said: "most internet users are unaware of the large amounts of data that are processed about their search behaviour, and of the purposes they are being used for".

"If they are not aware of this processing they are unable to make informed decisions about it. The obligation to inform individuals about the processing of their data is one of the fundamental principles of the Data Protection Directive," it said.

Google's privacy chief Peter Fleischer told OUT-LAW last year why the company had not changed its home page to include such a link.

"Google has a very sparse homepage. It’s one of the things that we’re very proud about. It’s kind of clean and zen-like. Last I counted I think we had something like 35 words on our homepage," he said."On ours with only 35 words, we had to keep it very sparse. Now of course we’re a search engine, so anybody who wants to see our privacy policy can type 'Google privacy policy' and, trust me, it will come up as result number one. It’s not hard to find. We’re a search company. We don’t believe in pushing things into people’s face. We keep it easy and simple to find."