Google Risks Fines After Dutch Issue Privacy Ultimatum

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Google Inc. faces a third round of European fines after Dutch data regulators issued an ultimatum ordering the search-engine giant to improve its revamped privacy policy.

Google may be be fined as much as 15 million euros ($18.7 million) if it fails to meet an end-February 2015 deadline to comply with Dutch demands. These include asking users for their “unambiguous consent” and that they are given “clear and consistent information” about the way personal information is being used, the Netherlands authority said in an e-mailed statement today.

“Google catches us in an invisible web of our personal data without telling us and without asking us for our consent,” Jacob Kohnstamm, chairman of the Dutch privacy watchdog, said in the statement. “This has been ongoing since 2012 and we hope our patience will no longer be tested.”

The fine threat follows a 900,000 euro-penalty from Spain’s data watchdog last year and another 150,000 euros Google was asked to pay in January by the French regulator for breaching local privacy rules with its new policy. The penalties are part of several European investigations started after the Mountain View, California-based company made changes to harmonize privacy policies for more than 60 products in 2012.

“We’re disappointed with the Dutch DPA’s order especially as we’ve already made a number of changes to our privacy policy in response to their concerns,” Al Verney, a Brussels-based spokesman for Google, said by phone. “However we’ve recently shared some proposals for further changes with the group of European regulators and we look forward to discussing with them soon.”

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European privacy regulators from France, Germany, the U.K., Spain, Italy and the Netherlands last year “coordinated” enforcement measures over the company’s failure to address complaints about its new privacy policy. The French agency led the probe on behalf of the EU group to review whether Google’s revisions to its policies violated the bloc’s rules.

Google has sent a letter to the six national regulators to announce “a large number of measures to comply with European privacy laws,” according to the Dutch authority’s statement. The watchdog said it “has not yet established whether the proposed measures will end all the violations found by the Dutch DPA.”

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