European Data Watchdogs Consider Legal Action Against Google Over Data Privacy.

What have Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK all got in common, other than being active members of the European Union?

Well, they’re all considering taking legal action against the internet giant, Google, or more particularly Google’s privacy policy. Why should that matter to online UK businesses? Well, because any company who actively uses internet marketing may well be affected by this in one way or other.

The threat comes after the four-month deadline to change the privacy policy expired at the end of March.

Google had been warned that it had to take action, and more importantly to be seen to be taking action. However the search giant has refused to make any changes to its controversial privacy policy. Now data watchdogs in the EU are looking into the matter and are seriously considering taking Google to task for its inaction.

Google, however, has issued a statement claiming that it fully respects European law, and believes its policy complies with all the necessary guidelines. The latest spat between the European data protection agencies and Google stems back to discussions last October, in which a European Commission working party reported that Google’s privacy policy did not meet Commission standards on data protection. The investigation was initiated because of Google’s decision to update its privacy policy so it had one set of guidelines for every service it ran.

The report concluded that Google should do more to let users see what information was held about them, provide tools to manage this data and take more care to ensure it did not store too much data about users. Google was given four months to comply with the working party’s recommendations to bring the policy into line with European law. However, nothing substantive has happened since.

A statement from French data watchdog, CNIL, which headed the investigation, claimed:

“After this period has expired, Google has not implemented any significant compliance measures,”

Moreover, CNIL claimed Google was warned about the potential for action on 19 March in a meeting with officials from six data watchdogs, but has singularly failed to make any changes to its policy since that warning was given.
As a consequence, all six data protection bodies were now opening new investigations into Google and how it handles the issue of data privacy. The UK’s Information Commissioner confirmed it was looking at whether the policy complied, but refused to add any further comment because of the on-going investigation.

What about Google? What has it had to say for itself? Well, according to a Google spokesperson:

“Our privacy policy respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services. We have engaged fully with the DPAs involved throughout this process, and we’ll continue to do so going forward.”

News of the latest action comes as Google’s privacy director, Alma Whitten, steps down from her job. Ms Whitten was appointed as the search giant’s first privacy director in 2010, following a series of mistakes by Google that had led to user data being exposed.

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