Google Vs. Europe: Privacy-Loving Eurozone Nations Prepare For Battle With Data-Collecting Goliath

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France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK are taking action versus Google over its controversial unified privacy policy. Reuters

In what is shaping up to be a massive cross-continental brawl over consumer data in the digital age, authorities in six European countries are investigating Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) over its privacy policy.

The investigations are being carried out by data-protection authorities in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK following a recommendation from the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés, or CNIL, the French data-protection watchdog that has been investigating Google’s controversial unified privacy policy since it was first implemented 13 months ago.

In a press release on Tuesday, the CNIL wrote that Google’s policy remains in noncompliance with Europe’s Data Protection Directive, despite recommendations it published in October, which had asked Google to implement compliance measures within four months. The CNIL also wrote that a March 19 meeting between a data-protection taskforce and Google representatives yielded no progress, as the privacy policy remains unchanged. As a result, the group recommended that authorities in the European countries escalate the matter.  

“It is now up to each national data protection authority to carry out further investigations according to the provisions of its national law transposing European legislation,” the CNIL wrote on its website. “Consequently, all the authorities composing the taskforce have launched actions on 2 April 2013 on the basis of the provisions laid down in their respective national legislation (investigations, inspections, etc.).”

Data-protection officials in most of the individual countries were not immediately available for comment, but the Italian Data Protection Authority did confirm with International Business Times that it had already begun its investigation. “Italian DPA has notified Google [about] the initiation of a procedure to verify whether the Google privacy policy is compliant with the Italian national legislation,” said Francesco Vitali, a spokesman for the authority, in an email message.

In an emailed statement to the International Business Times, a spokesperson for Google said its privacy policy “respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services.” The spokesman added: “We have engaged fully with the DPAs involved throughout this process, and we’ll continue to do so going forward.”

Unlike in the United States, where data privacy is loosely regulated by the states, the European Union regulates companies’ abilities to collect personal information -- and the regulations are generally much stricter than in the U.S.

Europe’s fight with Google comes at a time when those already-tough data-protection laws are poised to get even tougher. In December, the European Commission proposed a comprehensive reform to the data-protection rules it established in 1995, eons ago in the tech world.

In a press release at the time, the commission said its aim is to “strengthen online privacy rights and boost Europe's digital economy.” At the same time, the proposed rules could have serious implications for Google, Facebook and other U.S. tech companies whose livelihoods depend on their ability to sell advertising based on data they collect from their users.

The CNIL’s announcement came less than a day after Forbes reported that Alma Whitten, Google’s first director of privacy, is planning to step down. When the position was first announced in 2010, CNET called it “Google’s hardest job.”  

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