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EU Regulators Bully Google Again


Google has won over European customers, but it just can't win the confidence of EU regulators.

The Internet search giant Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), already troubled over a long-running tax evasion dispute and antitrust complaints in Europe, faced some fresh regulatory issues this week.

In the United Kingdom -- the country that contributed 11% to Google's revenues in 2012 -- the Information Commissioner's Office gave the company 35 days to remove private user data it "mistakenly collected" under the Google Street View project. If the company fails to do so, this will be considered a criminal offense.

Google previously ran into roughly the same problem in Germany where it was fined $190,000 in April for "one of the biggest data protection rules violations known," as the representative of a local regulator put it. France fined Google for around $142,000 over the same matter in 2011, while in the US, it cost Google $7 million to settle a similar case.
Photo courtesy of Google Inc

In addition to the Google Street View issues, France delivered yet another blow to the company via a statement from the National Commission for Computing and Civil Liberties (CNIL). The regulator said that Google violated the French Data Protection Act by failing to fully inform users of how their private data might be used, and not providing them with enough control over the data. Google was given three months to, among other things, "Define specified and explicit purposes to allow users to understand practically the processing of their personal data" and not to aggregate users' data "without legal basis."

In October 2012, the Working Party looked into privacy issues and sent Google CEO Larry Page a letter with a set of recommendations for the company to implement within four months. But Google "has not implemented any significant compliance measures," CNIL says.

If Google fails to comply this time, sanctions may follow. It won't hurt the company's bottom line, though: Bloomberg reports that CNIL could only fine the company for roughly $200,000 (€150,000) and other regulators could cite Google for up to 2 million euros in fines, or less than a hundredth of 1% of Google's annual net income.

Spain is reported to be launching a similar probe into the company, with the UK, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands also investigating Google's privacy policy.

Google is facing a number of new legal and privacy challenges in global markets, too. Earlier this week, 10 privacy authorities representing different countries from Australia to Mexico asked the company to answer a number of tough privacy-related questions about its upcoming product Google Glass.

In its home market of the US, Google is now challenging the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) in an attempt to get a legal clearance to publish the aggregate number of FISA orders. The company seeks to restore customer confidence after a series of leaks alleging that it provided data to US authorities under the so-called PRISM program. Google dismissed the allegations, but the tech giant is now trying to be even more transparent about its cooperation with governments.

See also:

Tech News: Michael Dell Is Getting Desperate

Google CEO's Reaction to PRISM Surveillance Allegations: 'What the ...?'

Apple Inc.'s Number of Government Data Requests Lags Facebook Inc., Microsoft Corporation
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