Google faces possible EU privacy crackdown

Google is about to get a nasty surprise from privacy regulators in the EU.

In October the data protection agencies warned Google that its new confidentiality policy did not comply with EU laws and gave it four months to make changes or face legal action. Google did not and claimed it complied with all laws known to man, including the law of gravity.

According to France24France’s CNIL data protection agency said that after four months Google had refused to comply with the European data protection directive to implement effective recommendations.

Now European data protection agencies plan to set up a working group to “coordinate their coercive actions” which should be started after the winter.

European data agencies will meet next week to approve the action plan.

Google’s privacy policy, which was rolled out in March 2012, allowed it to track users and allowed it develop targeted advertising.

The move was slammed in the US and European consumer advocacy groups. In the US, Google has paid $22.5 million in fines over its privacy moves and has re-worded them a bit to make the problem go away.

Google said its privacy policy simplifies and unifies its policies across its various services such as Gmail, YouTube, Android mobile systems, social networks and web search.

But the EU said that the policy, which offers no ability to opt out aside from refraining from signing into Google services, gives the operator of the world’s largest search engine unprecedented ability to snoop on its users.

Google said that the move gave it the same level of control over its users that was enjoyed by Apple and Facebook. We would have thought that was a fairly weak argument which probably should not have been made.

The Europeans want Google to improve information provided to users, particularly on the categories of data being processed, and for what purposes and services.

It also wants Google to specify precise periods it would hold onto personal data.

CNIL said Google had not provided “any precise and effective answers to their recommendations”.

The situation could get much worse for the company. EU competition authorities are separately looking at whether Google has used its search engine to boost its own services and disadvantage competitors by preferential rankings.

Google has been more proactive in that probe and responded with proposals aimed at ending the EU probe into its dominance of online search advertising platforms.

It is not clear if this line has worked yet.