Google heads to court to fight French privacy slapdown

Google heads to court to fight French privacy slapdown

Summary: The search giant is fighting a ruling that could see it fined €150,000 and forced to make changes to its French homepage.

TOPICS: Privacy, Google, EU

Google has no intention of taking a recent privacy rebuke lying down — the company headed to court this week to get a recent decision by France's privacy watchdog overturned.

Last month, regulator CNIL (la commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés) issued Google with the maximum fine possible under French law, €150,000, after raising objections about Google's consolidated privacy policy.

The new policy, which consolidated over 60 separate privacy documents, came into force in March 2012 despite fears by European regulators that it violated the European Directive on Data Protection.

CNIL repeatedly requested that Google address its concerns with the policy — including those regarding transparency and users' lack of control over how their date is used — and bring the policy into line with French data protection law. The company did not do so, according to CNIL, prompting it to issue the fine.

In addition, CNIL ruled that Google had to display a notice about the watchdog's decision on the homepage. "This publicity measure is justified by the extent of Google’s data collection, as well as by the necessity to inform the persons concerned who are not in a capacity to exercise their rights," CNIL said at the time.

Now, Google is contesting both the fine and the notice in court. According to reports, Google took the matter to the Conseil d'Etat in Paris on Thursday.

Google's lawyer requested the notice should be suspended while it appeals CNIL's ruling, as the move would cause "irreparable damage" to its reputation, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.

Under the CNIL ruling, Google would have had to keep the notice in place on its homepage for a 48 hour period from 8am, with a message saying it had been fined €150,000 for breaches of the Data Protection Act and a link to the ruling on CNIL's site. The message would have to be no smaller than 13 point Arial, and appear under the 'Google search' and 'I'm feeling lucky' buttons.

"This is something we've never seen before," Patrice Spinosi, representing Google, said during Thursday's hearing, the WSJ reports. "Google has always maintained that page in a virgin state."

CNIL representatives told the hearing that users have a right to know the company had been sanctioned by the regulator, the paper added.

France is not the only country to object to Google's unified privacy policy: Spain fined the company €900,000 late last year, while Dutch, UK and Italian authorities have also raised questions about the changes.

Google and CNIL did not respond to request for comment.

More on Google and privacy

Topics: Privacy, Google, EU

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  • Apple

    had to do something similar in the UK a couple of years back. Their apology had to be on their home page. They used a bit of JavaScript to ensure that it appeared below the bottom of the browser window, so the user would have to scroll to see it. They also used a very small font.

    They were taken back to court and ordered to make sure it appeared on the home page without scrolling and the font size was stated, so they couldn't weedle their way out of it again.

    If Google are ignoring data protection law, like they seem to be doing in many countries in Europe, then they only have themselves to blame, when they get hauled up in court and lose.
  • absolute evil。。

    absolute power = absolute evil
    patrick lion
    • Nanny State

      Not a big fan of Google, but if someone wants to give up a certain degree of their "privacy" in exchange for free services, should it not be their right to do so?

      No one is forced to use Google. So in this case it's the French Nanny State that is abusing its power. I don't blame Google for fighting this, and I hope they win.
      • In this case...

        it is Google ignoring laws that were in place before they decided to combine their privacy statement. Their doing so broke the law, so they were prosecuted.

        They were even given several months warning that the planned changes were illegal in Europe and they should look at another solution.

        If I shoot somebody and end up being prosecuted, it isn't the "nanny state" that is the problem, it is that I broke a law.