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Google's web analysis tools face German scrutiny

Kristen Allen · 26 Nov 2009, 17:19

Published: 26 Nov 2009 17:19 GMT+01:00

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A group of state and federal data protection experts is meeting on Thursday and Friday to discuss whether the use of informational tools such as Google Analytics are legal according to German law.

The weekly newspaper Die Zeit reported that the authorities are looking into ways of discouraging German websites from using Google Analytics, including penalties if necessary.

“We only heard from a third party that they would be meeting this week and want to come up with a resolution in terms of all web analytics and web tracking software,” Google Germany’s spokesperson Kay Oberbeck told The Local on Thursday.

“They are not singling out Google Analytics, but are looking at a general resolution on all the big players in the market.”

The authorities fear that Google and other internet companies could compile profiles of millions of web users, detailing their interests, habits, consumer behaviours, as well as political and sexual preferences, Die Zeit reported. The paper added that what makes privacy experts nervous is the possibility that this data could be combined with fundamentally personal details such as addresses, bank account numbers and health insurance details.

Along with officials from Berlin, Hamburg, and Bavaria, the ULD, an independent centre for data protection in Schleswig-Holstein is expected to attend the talks. The organisation argues such web analysis is illegal and that internet users should have the option to “opt out” of observation by tracking tools.

“Without this opt-out option, it won’t work,” ULD head Marit Hansen told Die Zeit.

Meanwhile Stuttgart data privacy lawyer Carsten Ulbricht told the paper that such data analysis without user permission violated the country’s telecommunications law, which could mean that fines of up to €50,000 apply.

But Google is confident that its Analytics tools remain within European Union privacy laws and Oberbeck told The Local the program only aggregates anonymous user information.

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“We have signed on to the Safe Harbour contract between the US and the EU, which complies with the EU’s personal data laws,” he said.

Furthermore the “opt-out” option is unnecessary, because Google Analytics requires all sites that use it to disclose this on their privacy policies and users can choose to reject the cookies it sends via their web browser, he added.

“What may come out of the meeting is subject to speculation,” Oberbeck said. “We don’t know if they will do anything or not.”

Related links:

Kristen Allen (kristen.allen@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

16:35 November 26, 2009 by berlinski
HaHa, eBay has been doing this for years. They have the Market research tool to track buyers browsing habits etc. Anyone can subscribe to this tool in their eBay account. Then you can see where someone browsed to after they purchased one of your products.
22:27 November 26, 2009 by billyjean
First the Stasi attacks the "Gmail" link and now this. Give me a break! Block cookies if you don't want the crap on your computer. Analytics is a great tool to see what browser your users are using. The helps you tailor your site properly. I have not seen any personal data stored on analytics.

Leave GOOGLE alone and go after you Stasi GMX and Web.de data sucking sites. Kostenlos provided you give us all of your personal information. I do not recall Google forcing me to provide my home address and birthday when I signed up. The Stasi isn't happy that a foreign business is tracking its citizens.
07:49 November 27, 2009 by berlinski
Google reads the content of your emails and provides related advertising whereas GMX and Web.de do not have the technology to do that, so they ask for as many details as possible from you so they can spam you with relevant email marketing. For me personally, I prefer GMail because it is much faster than my old GMX email account. I got tired of them spamming me and having to close the popups which somehow my popup blocker didn't stop. GMX just got too slow, annoying and badly designed. I find with Gmail, they advertise to me, but in a non obtrusive way. This I do not mind, because they provide an excellent email service for free. One thing though with Gmail that raised an eye. I had downloaded software onto my computer and then later that day I opened the software and at the same time had GMail open on my browser and what do I see in the Gmail window? Yes, advertising for a similiar software package that I had just downloaded. How did Gmail do that? Coincidence?

What I am careful of is when using eBay. How do they track what I do before and after I visit eBay? Do the big eBay sellers get that information to use when marketing to me? I used eBay Market analysis tool and it gives a lot of browsing habit information to sellers about people who browse onto their eBay listings. Hmmmmmmmm?
09:47 December 2, 2009 by YankeeT
I read this entry from a reader on JJ Luna's privacy site http:www.jjluna.com in the Questions and Answers section.

I did it and it has sped up the time it takes to pages pages because the advertisements and info-snoop programs are blocked.

Since most people run Windows, there is actually a shortcut you can use to block specific domains *without* having to operate your own DNS server; the only drawback being that you would have to modify each machine to get the desired effect rather than have all the machines use a specific DNS server under your control. For most people this will be fine and this method even works on old versions of Windows.

1) go to "Start" -> "Run"

2) type in the following command:

notepad %WINDIR%\system32\drivers\etc\hosts

3) each line in this file has an IP address followed by some whitespace (spaces,tabs) and then a host name to map IP addresses to names. anything not specified in this file goes to your DNS server. For our purposes, we are going to use this file to block entire domains. For each domain to block, use for the IP address, followed by the name of the domain you wish to block. For example, to block Google's auto completion, use this entry: clients1.google.com

Note, this wouldn't block google.com or ads.google.com, etc. To block an entire evil domain such as doubleclick.net use this: doubleclick.net

I am not technically inclined - but these directions worked fine for me.
17:21 December 3, 2009 by RaptorX

Correct, that is the easiest way to block those things...

In this page they explain it and give you a host file with most common parasites and ad pages already blocked.

----> http://www.mvps.org/winhelp2002/hosts.htm
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