Ethical Performance
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EU has Google in sights over data privacy policies

March 2013

Google is being threatened with EU sanctions unless it changes its privacy policies.

The huge US internet company had been asked by Europe’s data protection authorities, led by CNIL, the independent French privacy body, to give better information on how it uses personal data, clarify how it combines data across its services, and state exactly how long it retains the data.

The EU authorities say that after four months Google has not given precise, effective answers.

The regulators can already impose fines of up to €1m ($1.3m, £864,000) for non-compliance but they now propose to empower national watchdogs to fine companies up to 2% of their worldwide turnover – representing around €575m in Google’s case, based on its 2011 revenues.

They are continuing their investigations and are forming a working group, led by CNIL, to co-ordinate action before the summer. The action plan was due to be approved by the Article 29 Working Party, the EU’s data protection advice group, by the end of last month.  

Google denies failing to co-operate with EU regulators and maintains it replied to the CNIL-led inquiries in January. “Our privacy policy respects EU law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services,” said a spokesperson. “We have engaged fully with the CNIL throughout this process, and we’ll continue to do so.”

Google insists that the changes it made to the terms and conditions of its privacy rules last year have improved the service to users.

However, with the rising threat of sanctions, Jeff Chester, executive director of the US-based Center for Digital Democracy, predicted: “We think we will see the EU take a step forward on privacy, which will make Facebook, Google and Yahoo rethink how they do business.”

Nick Pickles, director of the UK privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, was frustrated by Google’s response to the EU regulators’ demands.

“It’s a big blow for consumers,” he said. “Here you have European regulators expressing clearly-articulated concerns that Google was impinging on the fundamental rights of its citizens, and consumers are still waiting for a satisfactory answer. This needs a quick solution. Consumers are using [Google’s] services every day without knowing whether they are legal and safe.”

Jacob Kohnstamm, head of the Article 29 Working Party, criticised aggressive lobbying by the US agents of Google and Facebook for the relaxation of EU privacy laws.

Last year, Google’s spending on lobbying activities increased by 70% to $16.5m (£10.8m, €12.5m) from $9.7m in 2011.

Google | Europe |


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