Data privacy

Google may soon face action by EU privacy regulators

Warwick Ashford

Google may face action by privacy regulators across Europe if the company does not change the way it manages user data.

EU data authorities have been investigating Google’s data collection practices since last March, when the search firm started combining data from across its sites to better target advertising, which regulators see as "high risk" to users’ privacy.

The new policy was implemented after the company combined 60 separate privacy policies into a single agreement, which has raised privacy concerns on both sides of the Atlantic.

According to France's privacy watchdog CNIL, Google has yet to respond with "precise and effective" responses to 12 recommendations adopted by 27 national regulators in October 2012, said the BBC.

As a result, Google could face could face a coordinated "repressive action”, said CNIL, which was tasked with leading the EU investigation.

The Article 29 Working Party, a group of data protection officials from each EU member state, is expected to vote on the proposal at the end of February.

Google denies privacy policy violates EU law

Google has consistently denied that its privacy policy is in violation of EU law.

"Our privacy policy respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services," Google said in a statement. "We have engaged fully with the CNIL throughout this process, and we'll continue to do so going forward."

CNIL said Google should strengthen the consent sought for combining data for the purposes of service improvement and advertising, provide a centralised opt-out solution, and adapt the combination rules to distinguish between security and advertising.

CNIL also called on Google to clarify how long it stores user data.

After issuing recommendations in October, regulators gave Google four months to amend its privacy policy to address EU privacy concerns.

Google must resolve EU anti-trust concerns

Google is also facing potential punitive action if it fails to satisfy European concerns about its business practices.

In February, Google submitted last-minute proposals to address the European Commission’s (EC) concerns over allegations the search firm abused its dominant market position in the region.

EC competition authorities began investigating Google's business practices in 2010 after complaints by Microsoft and smaller rivals in the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the US.

Early in January, European competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia said Google would face a tougher stance on its business practices in Europe than it did in the US.

EC data shows that Google has a search market share of greater than 90% in Europe, compared with about 65% in the US.

"The way the US looks at abuse of dominant position is different from the European one," Almunia told the Financial Times.


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