Google faces EU state fines over privacy policy merger

Google faces EU state fines over privacy policy merger

Summary: Google faces a string of fines in EU member states after the U.K., France, Italy and Germany prepare to launch investigations into the search giant's privacy policy.

TOPICS: Google, Privacy, EU

Google's 'new' privacy policy, launched a little over a year ago, is still causing headaches in Europe. But a new pan-European investigation into the policy may cause greater troubles for the search giant.

The French data protection authority, the Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertes (CNIL), said today that the search giant has failed to respond to its requests to make changes to its controversial privacy policy and has handed the case to European member states to deal with the matter locally.

The U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands were first involved in the examination of the new privacy policy — which merged around 60 different policies for Google's various products and services into one single policy.

In doing so, it could open Google to multiple fines at a local level in the coming months and quarters, once each authority has concluded its own investigation into its privacy practices.

Speaking to ZDNet, the U.K.'s Information Commissioner's Office said that an investigation had been launched and was in its early days. An ICO spokesperson said the organization would determine whether or not Google's year-old policy breaches the U.K. Data Protection Act.

Due to the ongoing investigation, the ICO declined to comment further.

The ICO can serve a maximum £500,000 ($758,000) fine against a company that breaches U.K. data and privacy laws. Each data protection authority would have to enact their own fines separately and maximum fines vary by region.

A Google spokesperson in London said in an emailed statement: "Our privacy policy respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services. We have engaged fully with the [data protection authorities] involved throughout this process, and we'll continue to do so going forward."

Not "in compliance" with European law?

On March 1, Google's new privacy policy took effect. The search giant said it would make its products better, enhance the experience for users, while making advertisements more targeted, allowing for more specific and relevant ads for users.

While Google repeatedly said in statements that it takes the privacy of its users seriously, its balance sheets showed that it still rakes in most of its annual profits through serving adverts to its users.

But for the European authorities, Google remains a big target with more than 90 percent market share on the continent.

However, European data regulators warned Google to put the changes on ice after they claimed the new policy may breach European data protection laws. Google said the raising of concerns was a "surprise," and remained on course with its March 1 deadline. 

Members of the Article 29 Working Party, a group of data protection officials from each of the member states, charged France's CNIL with investigating the search giant to determine whether or not Google had fallen foul of EU data and privacy laws.

The outcome was initially expected in September, but was revealed in mid-October. The EU body found that Google's new privacy policy may not be "in compliance" with European data and privacy law and that "irregularities were found."

The authority fell short of ruling on whether the new policy was outright in breach of its laws, however. 

The 27 European authorities "unanimously adopted the findings of the audit," and gave Google three to four months to comply with the CNIL's recommendations, a buffer which expired in mid-March.

On March 19, Google was invited to a meeting headed by the CNIL and the data protection authorities from the six other European member states, but "no changes have been seen since," the French authority said.

Topics: Google, Privacy, EU

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  • A step in the right direction

    Its time to take real action on Google's illegal practices. The stealing of privacy, software and competitors data is totally unacceptable.
    • Its time for you to...

      ...either put up some factual data or references, or shut up and quit infesting talkback discussions.
      • It's time to remember...

        That opinions are like anal sphincters. We all have at least one... and no one wants to bend over and smell them. Ow1111inet's opinion is too close to noise due to it's generic nature that it does not merit the tired old "Provide References!" challemge. A simple "Do you have a real opinion or are you just a random meme?" would have sufficed.
      • ad words

        Google a brand with a registered trade mark. Count all the sites that come up because of that ad word that are not legally entitled to use that registered trademark. If you didn't put in anything other than the trademark in the search all the other sites that come up are paying Google to use that registered trademark as an ad word.

        I know because I have the cease and desist letters our attorneys sent to Google. Once you catch them at it them will pull those registered trademark ad words from your competitors sites. Google has enough computers to run a trademark search before selling an ad word. They do not do that as a matter of regular business. If you don't police your intellectual property they will keep reselling your trademarks as ad words.
    • you must...

      have a lot of disgusting sexual content in your mailbox to be so mad, or maybe a hotmail lover? as the other guy said get some facts or shut your pie hole
    • And there's the rub, as our British friends would say - much of this is NOT

      unlawful in the good old land of the dollar bill where they have the best legislative system corporate money can buy.

      If the EU wanted to really hurt Google and other US companies they need only pass a law that companies that fail to comply with their laws within a reasonable amount of time be blocked at the EU or national backbones. Such action would cost Google huge amounts of revenue if they can't get the request for data to ther servers and thus can't get paid due to the ads not being sent out.
      Deadly Ernest
      • Ever hear of something called due process?

        Before one goes off the deep end, the concept of due process applies in most countries in Europe too. Could you imagine the public backlash in Europe if Google was blocked?
        • I'm well aware of 'due process' and an investigation would cover that

          to start with. I did say "... companies that fail to comply with their laws within a reasonable amount of time ..." which would mean they've been made aware of their non-compliance and given time to comply. Once they fail to comply because they can make more than the fines cost, the only way to punish them is to cost them money. Which is what is suggested. Also, they need only block the Google domains and services that affect the income. I already have an effective way to do that by denying anything to do with GoogleAnalytics, GoogleAdServers, and similar such services from my browser. Thus a block on those would affect Google ad income while not affecting gmail or a Google search.
          Deadly Ernest
    • If you think that, then use Bing.

      Oh - you don't like the missing answers?
      Or the adverts there either?
      Or the tracking that MS does?

      You really need to get consistent.
      • Why do that when Microsoft do the exact same thing with Bing?

        I do suppose you could swicth to instead as they don't shove ads at you the way Microsoft and Google do.
        Deadly Ernest
  • that's tortuos interference with Google's business

    The moronic bureaucrats are harming the consumer in EU.
    And I bet some evil competitors 'helped them' reach this decision.
    LlNUX Geek
    • How So?

      Google was told to change their privacy policy and did not comply by the deadline.
      If this were MS you'd be all up in arms with torches and pitchforks.
  • Microsoft and now Google

    Seems many are not complying with the rules.
    • What rules

      Aren't they all making this up on the fly, all of them?
  • Google faces EU state fines over privacy policy merger

    I hope they get fined billions like Microsoft did.
    • It won't

      Most member states can't impose any percent of revenue fines. Most have a set figure of upwards of €1 million per infringement. Fines, even in total, will be proportionally tiny to what Google generates.
  • I don't get it...

    .... I'm using Gmail since it began as a beta years ago, i never pay attention to the ads i don't get annoyed by them, and in fact i have always known that google runs an algorithim that checks for keywords in every mailbox and target specifical ads for it, but guess what morons you are using an incredibly well developed mail service for FREE, stop complaining or start paying somewhere else, perhaps this EU lazy fat asses just want to get over their recession by suing? did they got tired of applying expensive taxes to their citizens?

    Simply as that google has given us a different way of using the internet so stop complaining, an script isnt a person watching your personal info.
    • Danny, it's one thing to say this about the ads on Gmail, and I agree there

      it helps pay for the services. But when I go to a website while conducting research on something, I do NOT want to have my bandwidth taken up with ads from all over - especially as I (like much of the world outside the USA) pay for every megabyte of data downloaded to me over the Internet. Thus ads cost me money to delay my access to the website, so it's to my advantage to block them.

      Heck, even on this page my system is blocking a googleadserver script.
      Deadly Ernest
      • Hail thee, entitled one!

        Maybe you're smart for blocking ads. But you're very lucky that everyone else doesn't, so you get to continue your research and read news articles for free. So go ahead and keep doing what you're doing, but try not to sound so self-righteous about it - you're not.
        • Many of the sites I do research on charge me a membership fee, which I pay

          I see no reason why I should pay extra so they can make money by shoving unwanted ads at me. I have to pay for every byte of data, so why should I pay for BS ads I don't want?

          You want to sound self rightous about people having a right to push garbage at me and make me pay for it, well, I've got a lot mroe right to be self-rightous about not allowing them to do that.

          If everyone blocked ads we wouldn't have so many ads wasting so much of the bandwidth and the world would be a better place.

          If the only way a site can keep operating is ny pushing other people's ads at everyone, then I wonder if the site should be there at all.
          Deadly Ernest