Peter Fleischer: Google’s first privacy expert

Peter Fleischer is Global Privacy Counsel at Google.

The beginning of Peter Fleischer’s career at Google more than 15 years ago sounds like a scene from a Silicon Valley movie. During the job interview, company founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin asked the Harvard graduate where he wanted to work from. Fleischer’s answer: Europe. “Because that’s the continent with the longest tradition of data protection laws,” Fleischer explains. “And besides, if we develop our products, they have to meet European standards. If we achieve those data protection standards, our products will almost certainly work around the world.”

Fleischer has served as Global Privacy Counsel for the American tech giant Google since 2006. “I was the first full-time employee at Google to deal with privacy issues on the Internet,” he says. But Fleischer’s interest in privacy dates back to a very different time: “My father grew up as a young Jewish child in Berlin in the 1930s and 1940s. The question of who survived and who didn’t during that time depended on whether anyone put you on a list.”

When Peter Fleischer tries to describe his idea of privacy, the English language sometimes lacks depth. “Self-determination is a much better word than user control,” Fleischer says. “To self-determine who processes my data, to self-determine whether a government uses my data – that’s what it’s really about.”

EU as a role model for data protection

Over the past decades, Europe had repeatedly set milestones for digital privacy. This has been true since the mid-1990s with Directive 95/46/EC, which regulated the processing of personal data and was renewed in 2018 with the General Data Protection Regulation. “Many countries, for example, Latin America, have enacted privacy laws, and if you study them closely, you notice that the laws often follow the European model,” Fleischer says.

At Google, Fleischer is no longer the only one dealing with the issue. There are now more than 500 employees working on privacy and data protection in all levels of the company, be it in technology or customer service, he says.

Fleischer is decidedly relaxed about the current developments in the EU with the Digital Markets Act and Digital Service Act. “I’m no politician and I can’t say much about DMA or DSA,” he explains, “but one area is advertising on websites.”

Targeted advertising has been a goldmine for Google in the past – and it often remains unclear what personal data is used to ensure that a user is presented with a particular ad. “Instead of adopting blanket bans, we want to try to create an ad-supported Web ecosystem while still providing privacy,” Fleischer says. One approach is said to be the Privacy Sandbox, which is intended to replace personalized advertising via cookies. David Renke

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