Google facing privacy probe from Spanish data watchdogs

Authorities in Spain have joined French and Italian counterparts in taking legal action against Google over its data collection practices.
Written by Steve Evans, Contributor

Spanish authorities have launched legal action against Google over its data privacy practices following a European-wide review into the search giant's new policy on how it handles user data, which combined more than 60 different policies into a single one.

Spain's data protection agency, La Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD), has accused Google (PDF, Spanish) of five serious breaches of data privacy laws, with each punishable with fines of up to €300,000. The AEPD is primarily concerned with what Google does with a user's data once the company has collected it. 

One of the five charges levelled at Google is that the search giant is not clear about what it will do with the data after it has gathered it, meaning users are not in a position to judge whether the data collection is justified. The second charge is that processing data from one service, such as Gmail, and using it for another purpose may be "illegitimate" under Spanish law.

The third charge is that the new policy could result in a "disproportionate" use of private data, as information can be used without restriction in any service at any time.

The fourth charge states that Google could be keeping and using private data for an "undetermined or unjustified" period of time, which is against Spanish law. "The law states that personal data must be deleted once it is no longer necessary or relevant for the purpose for which it was collected, and Google keeps it beyond these deadlines," the AEPD statement said.

Finally the AEPD claims that Google is obstructing user’s rights because the tools available to users that help them exercise their rights are not available to everyone and in some cases are incomplete.

"Consequently disciplinary proceedings accuse Google Inc. and Google Spain of five serious breaches of the Data Protection Act, punishable with fines of between €40,001 and €300,000," the statement added.

The AEPD said its action came as a result of a coordinated approach with other data protection bodies in Germany, France, Holland, Italy and the UK. Italy and France yesterday launched similar proceedings against Google, meaing the company could be facing fines totalling millions of Euros across the continent.

Google's updated privacy policy came into effect in March 2012. The company said it would be combining all its separate privacy policies into a single, overarching policy. This means data collected via one Google service, such as Gmail, YouTube or its search engine, could be used across all platforms. The company said the move should result in better products, a better user experience and more targeted adverts. However, users are unable to opt out of the new policies if they wish to continue using Google products, and critics said it could results in a loss of online privacy.

Google said in a statement that its privacy policy "respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services". Google will continue to cooperate with authorities on the matter, it added.

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