Germany throws out Google's objections to data privacy rules

Germany's data protection watchdog has ruled Google must abide by an earlier order to limit its data collection practices.
Written by Sara Zaske, Contributor

Germany has ruled that Google must limit its data collection practices, the latest in a series of actions in Europe against the search giant.

The Hamburg data protection commissioner Johannes Caspar this week rejected Google's appeal against a previous ruling that ordered the company to change the way it processes data from its many services in the country.

The Hamburg commissioner, who represents the data protection authorities across Germany on this issue, issued an administrative order in September that found Google was able to unlawfully access a multitude of private information without users' express consent, including such things as travel plans using its location data, users' interests by evaluating search engine use, financial status by analyzing collected data, and even infer sexual orientation and relationship status.

Google filed an appeal against the Hamburg order in November, and the commissioner has now overruled its objections.

"It's now in Google's hands to implement our stipulations, eg, by a transparent mechanism for consent to process user data," Caspar said. "I expect that this will continue to take place as part of a constructive dialogue and will ultimately result in the clear strengthening of the rights of users of Google's services in Germany and across Europe as well."

Other European countries have already slapped Google with fines over the same types of practices: in December, Holland threatened the company with a fine of €15m ($16m) while previously France and Spain hit Google with fines of €150,000 and €900,000 respectively. But compared to the $66bn in revenue Google brought in last year, these are relatively modest sums.

However, in this latest ruling, the Hamburg commissioner said that Google has "signalled" a willingness to change its practices and the company presented plans to do so in March to the members of the Article 29 Working Party, a taskforce created to coordinate European countries' efforts to put more limits on the data Google collects.

Google has one month to comply with the German order or challenge it by filing suit in an administrative court. So far the company has not expressly indicated what it might do in response to the ruling, other than to emphasise that it will continue to work with the agency.

"We've engaged closely with the Hamburg Data Protection Authority throughout this process to explain our privacy policy and to address their concerns," a Google spokesperson told ZDNet. "We'll now look into next steps."

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