France threatens Google with privacy fines

Published June 20, 2013

| Associated Press

France is giving Google three months to be more upfront about the data it collects from users -- or be fined.

The legal action accelerates a Europe-wide fight against Google over its use of personal data. While the fines threatened are small by the standards of one of the world's richest companies, the move puts new pressure on Google as it smarts from recent criticism over providing customer data to U.S. government surveillance efforts.

The French agency that regulates information technology says that five other European countries are taking similar steps in a staggered offensive against Google's privacy policy between now and the end of July.

The French National Commission on Computing and Freedom, known as CNIL, says Spain has joined France in the first wave of legal action Thursday, and that Britain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands will join in the coming weeks.

Paris' formal warning gives the company three months to make changes to its privacy practices, such as specifying to users what it is using personal data for. If not, Google risks a fine of up to 300,000 euros by France, and millions of euros across all six countries. Google's revenues were $14 billion in the first quarter of this year, much of that from advertising -- which is boosted by the Internet giant's ability to target users based on what they read, watch and buy online.

A spokesman for Google said Thursday that it believes its privacy practices respect European laws.

"We have engaged fully with the authorities involved throughout this process, and we'll continue to do so going forward," said Google spokesman Al Verney.

In Britain, the Information Commissioner's Office said its investigation into whether Google's privacy policy complies with UK law is still underway as part of coordinated action by regulators around Europe. A spokesman for the ICO said it will soon contact Google about its preliminary findings.

Spain's data protection agency did not have immediate comment on the French statement. The Dutch privacy watchdog, the College for the Protection of Personal Data, said it is investigating Google's "privacy conditions" but spokeswoman Lysette Rutgers declined further comment while the investigation is ongoing.

France's data protection agency led a European investigation last year into Google's privacy policy. European regulators, answering concerns that the web giant may be collecting too much data and holding it for too long, urged Google to make it easier for users to opt out of the privacy policy.

"French law demands that when you're collecting information about someone, you need to collect it for a precise reason," said CNIL president Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin.

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