Google yesterday protested at draft new European privacy rules that would regulate how companies store and handle personal information, saying that some measures could "break the internet" – the slogan used by web companies to defeat anti-piracy legislation in the US.
Senior Google executives, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, raised concerns about proposals by Viviane Reding, the EU justice commissioner, that would require people to give explicit consent to companies for the storage and use of their personal data.
David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, said the draft proposals could mean people would have to give explicit permission to any website they visited because browsing involved disclosing an internet protocol address.
"Some have argued that IP addresses are personal information. That would mean that every time you navigate to a web page, something would pop up. We are very concerned about it and we are going to participate [in the EU consultation]to ensure that we don't break the internet."
Technology companies rallied sufficient support earlier this month to force the U.S. Congress to postpone two bills intended to curb copyright infringement and piracy. They argued that these bills would "break the internet" by blocking alleged pirate sites from being visible to internet users.
The campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and a linked bill demonstrated the rising political clout of internet companies. Wikipedia was blacked out for a day as part of the campaign, and Google placed a black banner over its name on its U.S. page to protest at internet "censorship."
Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, said the company was opposed to piracy and was working on technology to stop search links to pirate sites appearing prominently in its results. However, he said it lacked a solution similar to the way it automatically blocks copyright-infringing material on YouTube.
"There is a real problem with piracy . . . Please do not conflate us with illegal activities. We do not support illegal activities by any group," Mr. Schmidt said. "We have legislation that we think would stop it. We have done everything we can to prevent it within the confines of free speech."
Mr. Schmidt said Google favoured tackling piracy by cutting off payments and advertisements to rogue sites, rather than blocking links or pages - an alternative to SOPA proposed in a bill before Congress. It has been criticized by Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of News Corporation, of being lax on piracy.
Ms. Reding unveiled a package of proposed new privacy rules this week which would supercede national data privacy legislation in the EU. She said that she wanted to improve transparency and give individuals more control.