European data watchdogs combine to target Google over privacy policies

Six European data protection agencies are combining a joint legal action over Google’s privacy policies.The threat comes as a four month deadline to change the policy expires with Google making “no change” to the policy.

Google’s perceived failure to act on previous complaints are being looked into by data watchdogs in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK.

In late October 2012, a European Commission working party reported that Google’s privacy policy did not meet Commission standards on data protection.

The report said 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.

The investigation was kicked off by Google’s decision to update its privacy policy so it had one set of guidelines for every service it ran.

Google was given four months to comply with the working party’s recommendations to bring the policy into line with European law.

“After this period has expired, Google has not implemented any significant compliance measures,” said French data watchdog CNIL in a statement. CNIL headed the probe into the privacy policy.

In addition, said CNIL, Google was warned about the potential for action on 19 March in a meeting with officials from six data watchdogs. “No change,” was seen following this meeting, said CNIL.

As a consequence, all six data protection bodies were now opening new investigations into Google and how it handled privacy.

The UK’s Information Commissioner confirmed it was looking at whether the policy complied but said it could not add further comment because the investigation was ongoing.

The significance of the data watchdogs combining together in this way is two fold: a combined outcome will have a wider effect on the market as it will cover a larger number of people and countries.

But even more significantly is the potential size of the fine that Google could face- around £750 million.