Google in the Schmidt over illegal data collection claims

Spain and France are leading a Europe-wide push to force Google to change its policies on collecting user data.

The news that US spooks are using Google to harvest user data under Prism seems to have goaded French and Spanish data protection agencies into faster action. After all, Google’s data collection rules are, it is alleged, directly being used to spy on EU citizens.

France’s data protection watchdog (CNIL) said Google had broken French law and gave it three months to change its privacy policies or risk a fine of up to $200,000. This is, of course, peanuts.

Spain’s Data Protection Agency (AEPD) told Google it would be fined between roughly $60,000 and $400,000  for each of the five violations of the law. The agency says that Google had failed to be clear about what it did with data and may be processing a “disproportionate” amount and holding onto it for an “undetermined or unjustified” period of time.

The CNIL, which has been leading Europe’s inquiry since Google launched its consolidated privacy policy in March 2012, said Britain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands would be taking similar action against the world’s top search engine.

This means Google could face fines in the millions and still be forced to change its data collection policies in the EU.

CNIL president Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin told Reuters that Google should know the depth of what it is facing by the end of July. It should also have received some of the first wave of fines.

Ever with its fingers on the pulse of all things European, the UK is still trying to work out if Google’s actions are illegal.

Really, it all started last year when Google consolidated its 60 privacy policies into one and started combining data collected on individual users across its services, including YouTube, Gmail and social network Google+. It gave users no means to opt out.

This angered national data protection regulators in Europe, some of which began a joint inquiry as a result. Google was given until February to propose changes but it did not make any.

Instead it said that combining its policies made it easier for users to understand them. The watchdogs agreed, but insisted that Google has been illegally collecting data on EU citizens for years. Now it seems data collected by Google has been given to the NSA.