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World regulators gang up on Google

Eric Pfanner (via NYT/ AFR) | April 3, 2013
Instead of facing one European investigation into its privacy policy, Google now has to contend with at least six of them.

World regulators gang up on Google

Instead of facing one European investigation into its privacy policy, Google now has to contend with at least six of them. AFP

Instead of facing one European investigation into its privacy policy, Google now has to contend with at least six of them.

Data protection agencies in Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands said Tuesday that they were moving to take action against Google over the policy, which the company introduced last year. They joined the French regulator, which had initiated a European Union inquiry on behalf of its counterparts across the 27-nation bloc.

While the regulators have repeatedly threatened the company with tough talk of a united front, the news Tuesday reflects the reality that privacy laws are fragmented across the Union, giving Google little incentive to yield.

Enforcement is a matter for national agencies, rather than Brussels, though the French data protection agency; which is known by its French initials, C.N.I.L., said it would cooperate with the other countries as they step up their scrutiny.

The C.N.I.L., said it had "notified Google of the initiation of an inspection procedure," the latest step in a drawn-out investigation that began more than a year ago, when the agency said it thought the company's privacy policy violated EU law. Other agencies said they would conduct their own inquiries, building on the work of the C.N.I.L.

The Google privacy policy streamlined the individual practices that had been in place across more than 60 Google services, from its search engine to its online mapping operation to YouTube.

The company said at the time that this was necessary to provide clarity to users, and to improve its services.

But European regulators, led by the C.N.I.L., which was empowered to investigate on behalf of 27 individual E.U. regulators, complained that the company had been insufficiently forthcoming about its use of personal data, especially when the information was used across different services for purposes like advertising.

Last October, the heads of the 27 agencies wrote to Google's chief executive, Larry Page, demanding changes in the policy. They asked the company to do so within four months or risk sanctions.

"After this period has expired, Google has not implemented any significant compliance measures," the C.N.I.L. said in a statement.

Google has insisted that its use of data complied with E.U. law, and it stood by that position Tuesday. "We have engaged fully with the data protection authorities involved throughout this process, and we'll continue to do so going forward," the company said.

 

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