Google has four months to change privacy policy, says EU

October 17, 2012
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The European Union (EU) has given Google four months to adjust its privacy policy so that it is in sync with EU’s requests. This comes as no surprise due to the warning Google had gotten previously. If Google does not properly respond, it could face consequences that will affect the company in multiple areas of its services.

France’s Commission Nationale de l’Informatique (CNIL) has stated that it found several flaws in Google’s newly adopted privacy policy that make the company vulnerable from a legal standpoint. CNIL’s primary concern is how Google uses anonymous browsing data to personalize advertisements. While it isn’t illegal for Google to collect information to customize advertising, the fact that users don’t even know it’s happening can be rather alarming.

CNIL has given Google 12 suggested approaches, all of which will help users become more aware of the process and give them more information on when exactly it is happening.

Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy counsel, has stated that the company is actually pretty confident that its policies are well within the boundaries of EU law. In fact, Google has actually taken lengthy measures to ensure that it is dealing with users’ privacy as delicately as possible. Conversely, CNIL president Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin has stated that they will be entering the disciplinary phase of the investigation should Google not make any significant changes.

This whole situation boils down to two options for Google. The first is that Google can submit and negotiate terms to make its privacy policy more appealing. The other is a bit more controversial. Google can actually challenge the EU’s authority in court. If they can prove that the EU doesn’t actually have the authority to require privacy policy changes, then it will not be required to take any action at all.

So what will actually happen to Google if it doesn’t not comply? In reality, the worst that will happen is that it will have to pay a hefty fine. You may remember a similar case with Google’s Street View cars that resulted in Google having to pay fines for very similar reasons.

The policies in question have actually been in place since Google shuffled 60 privacy policies into one. This shuffling made it impossible for users to opt out of the way in which Google collects data.

Jacob Kohnstamm, an administrator for Dutch data protection, also resides as head of the working group of EU data protection regulators. He said that “since Internet companies know no borders, it is indispensable that data protection work together.” He follows up the statement by adding that this is in fact the first case in which regulators had cooperated on an investigation.

When all is said and done, the outcome of this case will undoubtedly be a sign of how effective the current enforcement of privacy protection is in Europe.

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