Google Threatened With Sanctions Over Privacy Policy In Europe

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Tech titan facing punishment from EU privacy regulators if it doesn’t comply to a list of demands within three months

Google has been sent formal notice threatening it with sanctions if it does not make alterations to its privacy policy, which has upset regulators across Europe throughout last year.

The company rolled all of its various privacy policies from its numerous products into one document. Whilst it claimed it was doing so to be more transparent, European privacy watchdogs were concerned the policy allowed Google to share user information across various services, even those which a particular consumers doesn’t use.

It was told to make changes repeatedly by CNIL, the French watchdog that has led the investigation as part of the Article 29 Working Group of European regulators, but nothing was forthcoming from Google. However,  Google senior corporate counsel for privacy, Keith Enright told TechWeek earlier this year it had cooperated with CNIL which, he claimed, had ignored rewquest .

google_privacyGoogle privacy policy probe

CNIL has now given Google three months to make changes to its privacy policy, after it determined  the company had breached the French Data Protection Act.

One of its demands is that Google not proceed with “the potentially unlimited combination of users’ data”.

The regulator demanded Google “fairly collect and process passive users’ data, in particular with regard to data collected using the ‘Doubleclick’ and ‘Analytics’ cookies, ‘+1’ buttons or any other Google service available on the visited page”.

It also called on the tech titan to “allow users to understand practically the processing of their personal data”.

CNIL said if Google does not respond, it may issue a fine, whilst other data protection authorities, including the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), are to write to Google to confirm whether or not they believe their respective national laws have been broken.

“Our privacy policy respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services. We have engaged fully with the authorities involved throughout this process, and we’ll continue to do so going forward,” a Google spokesperson said.

Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch, remained unconvinced by the regulatory threat levelled at Google.

“This case is a significant test of how strong the laws are to protect our privacy in an internet age,” Pickles said.

“Fines totaling a few million dollars will hardly trouble a multi-billion dollar empire and it’s essential that action does force the company to respect our privacy and put users rights before the demands of its advertising customers.

“Google continues to act like it is big enough to ignore privacy laws across the globe.”

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