Google Called Before EU Data Watchdogs Over Privacy Concerns

Google Inc. will have to appear before a group of European Union data-privacy watchdogs as part of a probe that may lead to what the regulators called coordinated “repressive action” after it failed to fix flaws in its privacy policy.

Google will be called to appear “in the coming weeks” as regulators prepare for “repressive action, which should start before the summer,” France’s National Commission for Computing and Civil Liberties, or CNIL, said in an online statement today.

“Our privacy policy respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services,” Google spokesman Al Verney said by phone. “We have engaged fully with the CNIL throughout this process and will continue to do so going forward.”

Google, operator of the world’s largest search engine, faces privacy investigations by authorities around the world as it debuts new services and steps up competition with Facebook Inc. for users and advertisers. Google last year changed its system to create a uniform set of policies for more than 60 products, unleashing criticism from regulators and consumer advocates concerned it isn’t protecting data it collects.

The Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, which comprises national privacy authorities in the EU, decided to pursue Google after a two-day meeting in Brussels. The group, led by CNIL, wrote to Google Chief Executive Officer Larry Page in October, saying Google “empowers itself to collect vast amounts of personal data about Internet users” without demonstrating that this “collection was proportionate,” and asking the company to bring its policy in line with EU rules.

Strengthening Trust

That letter included a list of recommendations which the EU regulators said “do not seek to limit the company’s ability to innovate and improve its products, but rather to strengthen users’ trust and control, and to ensure compliance with data protection legislations and principles.”

CNIL Chairwoman Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin said last year the French authority may fine Mountain View, California-based Google for not complying, calling it “probable” that other European agencies would pursue Google if it didn’t.

Google may face repressive action because it failed to give “any precise and effective” responses to the EU group’s recommendations, CNIL said last week. Google said then that it had answered on Jan. 8, listing changes it’s made to improve the protections and asking to meet to discuss the case.

Earlier, Google and CNIL disagreed over the quality of the responses to data-protection concerns. Google twice defied requests to delay implementing the streamlined privacy policy until CNIL could review it. Google then gave what CNIL called “often incomplete” information in response to a list of 69 questions, earning a rebuke in May and more questions.

CNIL’s fining powers pale in comparison with Google’s financial might. The company earned more than $10 billion last year and CNIL’s heaviest fine to date was 100,000 euros ($131,300) -- against Google in 2011 for breaches related to its Street View mapping service.

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