Google Gets A Rap On The Knuckle From The EU Over Privacy Policy.

Google’s dominance as the world’s most-popular search engine has always been underpinned by its ability to stay one step ahead of the competition and to make smart acquisitions at the right time.

No matter what challenges it has faced, the search engine behemoth has always responded positively and generally come out smelling of roses. However, though it may feel as if all it touches turns to gold, there are certain authorities that look dimly on the search engine’s perceived determination to rule the online world. One of the most powerful of these powers is the EU. It has been gunning for Google for some time now and has threatened to give the search engine a bloody nose and put it in its place. Well, it would now appear that the first blow has been struck. After a lengthy enquiry the EU has announced that Google’s privacy rules do not comply with those of the EU, and therefore the search engine must tow the line or face prosecution.

This isn’t the first time that Google has crossed swords with authorities either.

Google is still facing the results of a separate investigation by the EU into whether it has abused its position as the most popular internet search tool by directing users to its own services by placing them high in its results. In the U.S. the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is also said to be “strongly considering” its own investigation into whether Google and others have complied with guidelines for the disclosure of information about how paid advertisements appear in search results and whether the rules should be updated.

Europe’s watchdogs started to take an interest in the activities of Google after the firm’s decision in March this year to consolidate 60 separate privacy policies into one single agreement. The justification at the time was that it would make its privacy policy easier to understand and more transparent. However, the move also allowed Google to pool all its data from across its product range: so information was pooled from YouTube, its social network Google+ and its webmail service Gmail. There were a few murmurings of discontent at the time, but no significant revolts, until that is it became evident that the search engine had started to use this pooled information to help target adverts.

That caught the interest of the EU watchdogs, particularly the French data privacy regulator CNIL. CNIL carried out the investigation into Google on behalf of the 27 members of the European Union. Although Greece, Romania and Lithuania have yet to sign up to the findings, non-EU states Croatia and Liechtenstein have done so.

The enquiry concluded that the new policy was flawed, and that Google’s single privacy policy was not appropriate for use across Europe.

It has told the U.S Company that it has ‘months’ to make the necessary compliance changes or CNIL would ‘enter a phase of litigation’. The enquiry has instructed the search giant to give clearer information about what data is being collected and for what purpose. It has also been told to give users more control over how the information is combined. Google has yet to issue a statement in response to the judgement.

The news has understandably been well received by privacy campaign groups across Europe. Nick Pickles, the director of the UK-based privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch welcomed the news and told the BBC:

“It’s absolutely right that European regulators focus on ensuring people know what data is being collected and how it is being used. Unless people are aware just how much of their behaviour is being monitored and recorded it is impossible to make an informed choice about using services.”

“This ruling is an important step to putting consumers in control of their personal information and ensuring that companies like Google are not able to easily disregard people’s privacy in pursuit of more information and greater profits.”

It’s ironic that news of the judgement should come at the same time as Google announced the testing of a new unified search tool which will work across several of its products. Users involved in the trial will able to check through the contents of their Gmail, Google Calendar and Drive cloud storage services through the main search tool on the site’s homepage. The pilot scheme is currently only running in the U.S, but it’s guaranteed that should the pilot scheme be adopted globally, then European Regulators will look have something to say.

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