Google 'breached EU law' by merging privacy policies: report

Summary:European antitrust authorities are reportedly ready to determine that Google's move to merge more than 70 privacy policies into one is unlawful.

Google could be facing the sharp end of the European stick in the coming days after making sweeping changes to its privacy policies earlier this year, according to one report citing sources.

The Guardian reported that European data protection commissioners are only days away from firing the legislative cannons at Google following the move in March, that at the time came under heavy criticism from European data protection agencies, privacy groups and consumers alike.

The Mountain View, CA.-based search giant switched over its new privacy policy on March 1 after combining and merging existing privacy policies from various Google services.

The move allowed Google to easily tie users' data from one service to another, allowing a more enhanced experience for the end user, Google claims, while at the same time allowing for more targeted advertising suited for the user. 

However, critics claim that the new "data-sharing policy" allows Google to build up a more specific and accurate picture of its users . While the data remains anonymous to the likes of advertisers, privacy groups have warned that the collection of data by governments agencies makes it far easier to pinpoint who the user is.

Google Apps for Government, Education and Business users would be "unaffected" by the changes, the company said, while Google Wallet and Google Chrome still have separate standing privacy policies that govern how data is stored or shared with others.

Google may be fined a mere few hundred thousand euros, but could be forced by Europe to roll back the changes it made, described by a lawyer speaking to the London-based newspaper as like trying to "unscramble the egg."

Companies, such as Google, can however be served with notices of enforcement, requiring the company in question to change their business practices in Europe. 

Charged with the investigation, the French data protection authority, the Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertes (CNIL), said it would deliver its verdict by September

Google, meanwhile, is also embroiled in an antitrust suit with Europe, as is Microsoft.

Microsoft also faces a strong rebuke and a likely chance of a heavy fine after the software giant admitted it had failed to include a crucial update in the latest version of Windows, that offered European consumers a choice of browser. The update was part of an earlier settlement with Europe on anticompetitive matters. 

In a speech given in Brussels on Monday, EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said: "In the information and communication industries, our work with Google is proceeding; whereas we are currently reviewing the case regarding Microsoft's failure to keep commitments it took back in 2009 and I want to take a decision soon on the next steps."

A decision on Microsoft's breach of its antitrust commitments is expected early next year.

Google did not return calls for comment. European Commission spokesperson was also unavailable at the time of writing. If we hear back, we'll update the post.

Topics: Google, EU, Legal, Privacy

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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