Google gets 3 months to fix privacy policy

French data protection agency takes EU lead in enforcement against search engine leader

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 June, 2013, 10:11am

France will give Google three months to amend its policy on internet users' data to avoid fines, and said five other European countries would follow.

The US search engine giant was breaching French laws because it "prevents individuals from knowing how their personal data may be used and from controlling such use", said France's National Commission for Computing and Civil Liberties, the country's data protection watchdog, according to documents. The regulator will order Google to comply with the French Data Protection Act or face possible fines.

"Following new exchanges between Google and a taskforce led by the [regulator], the data protection authorities from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom have respectively launched enforcement actions against Google," the document said.

Google faces probes across Europe over changes to harmonise privacy policies for more than 60 products last year. Global data protection regulators this week wrote to the company urging chief executive Larry Page to contact them about possible issues with its web-enabled eyeglasses, called Google Glass.

Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels, did not immediately respond to a call and e-mail seeking comment.

The French watchdog ordered the company to spell out for users why it collects information "to understand practically the processing of their personal data", better inform users of its privacy policy and "define retention periods of personal data processed that do not exceed the period necessary for the purposes for which they are collected".

It is also asking the owner of the Gmail messaging system to request users' permission for "the potentially unlimited combination" of their data, ask users' approval to collect their data with tools such as cookies, "+1" buttons or any other Google service on third-party websites, and "inform users and then obtain their consent in particular before storing cookies in their terminal".

The commission's most severe fine to date was €100,000 (HK$1 million) against Google in 2011 for breaches related to its Street View mapping service.

The six regulators started "co-ordinated" enforcement measures in April over the firm's failure to address complaints about its new privacy policy. The French agency led a review on behalf of other authorities to review whether Google's policy revisions violated EU standards.