Germany tells Google to overhaul its profiling and let users decide how their data gets handled

Germany is applying new pressure on Google to comply with its national data protection laws.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Amid growing pressure for Google to bring itself more in line with European privacy laws, a German regulator has ordered Google to seek user permission before profiling them across its services.

The Hamburg commissioner of data protection and freedom of information on Tuesday raised the prospect of fines for Google if it doesn't make major changes to the way it processes user data in the country.

"Google is ordered to take the necessary technical and organisational measures to guarantee that their users can decide on their own if and to what [extent] their data is used for profiling," the regulator said in a statement.

Hamburg's complaint focuses on the impact of the consolidated privacy policy Google introduced in 2012 on users. The policy was brought in despite concerns among Europe's privacy watchdogs that it breached Europe's data protection laws.

It says the collection of data from users registered with multiple services, such as Gmail, Android and search, allows the creation of "meaningful" and "nearly comprehensive" personal records — for example, detailed travel profiles, financial status, whereabouts, and habits, as well as inferred information about relationships, sexual orientation, and relationship status.

Commissioner Johannes Caspar said it had suggested ways Google could improve its handling of user data in Germany but that "Google has not been willing yo abide by the legally binding rules and refused to substantially improve the user's control".

"So we had to compel Google to do so by an administrative order. Our requirements aim at a fair balance between the concerns of the company and its users. The issue is up to Google now. The company must treat the data of its millions of users in a way that respects their privacy adequately while they use the various services of the company," said Caspar.

Google has already been slugged by Spain with a €900,000 ($1.23m) fine over its consolidated privacy policy, and earlier this contested a €150,000 fine handed down by France's data protection authority. The Hamburg commissioner noted others had issued fines under national privacy laws, and now Germany had issued an order under using similar legislation.

Last week, Europe's group of top privacy watchdogs wrote to Google CEO Larry Page reminding him that Google need to comply with European and national data protection legal frameworks, providing a list of suggested measures the company could implement to better inform users about Google's data handling and provide them with more control.

The ongoing struggle over Google's privacy policy comes as pressure mounts on Google in Europe over its still unresolved anti-competition probe into its dominance in search, new questions over Android, and Google’s run-ins with Europe's justice system over its response to the right to be forgotten ruling.

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