Google faces inquiries (and possible fines) from European regulators

Six counties, including France and the UK, will launch probes into a 2012 Google privacy policy. 

Associated Press
The Google logo is seen on a signboard outside Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

In March of last year, Google took all its various privacy policies, and rolled them a single document, which users – if they wanted to continue using Google services – were pretty much compelled to sign. 

"Our new Privacy Policy makes clear that, if you're signed in, we may combine information you've provided from one service with information from other services," Alma Whitten, Google's director of privacy, product and engineering, wrote in a blog post at the time. "In short, we'll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience."

But as we noted last year, the trade-off was substantial: Google could henceforce collect and compile user data from all of its services, in order to improve search results. And predictably, the outcry was fast and loud. The move, one detractor said, was "frustrating and a little frightening." Another wondered if details that users "thought might be private on one [Google platform might] be revealed in unexpected ways on another." 

Among the fiercest critics of the privacy policy was the Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés, or CNIL, a French privacy agency which called the new Google terms-of-service "unfair and unwise."

In October of last year, CNIL concluded an investigation into the Google privacy policy, and urged the Mountain View company to give users more control over their personal information. According to CNIL, Google implemented none of its recommendations; meanwhile, a March 2013 meeting with Google execs was apparently similarly unproductive. 

Now CNIL says regulators in six European countries – FranceGreat Britain, Italy, GermanySpain, and the Netherlands – will "carry out further investigations according to the provisions of its national law[s]." That's not good news for Google, which could eventually face fines from European regulators. As the AP notes, Britain could fine Google 500,000 pounds, while CNIL could levy a penalty of $385,000. Google has not commented on the CNIL announcement. 

"There is a wider debate going on about personal data and who owns and controls personal data," Colin Strong, a technology analyst with GfK, told the Associated Press today. "The question is the extent to which consumers understand the value of their personal data and the extent that they are happy with the trade that they're getting."

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

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