Google heads to court to fight French privacy slapdown

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

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.

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