23rd Oct 2016

Google privacy policy breaks law, EU data chiefs say

  • EU data protection chiefs say Google's privacy settings break law. (Photo: Jonathas Rodrigues)

Search-engine Google has been ordered to re-write its data collection rules after EU regulators found that they were in breach of EU data protection laws.

A letter to Google CEO Larry Page signed by 24 of the EU's 27 national data protection regulators said that the software-giant had "not demonstrated that your company endorses the key data protection principles of purpose limitation, data quality, data minimisation, proportionality and right to object."

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The regulators, who collectively make up the Article 29 working party on data protection, also spelt out a 12-point plan for Google to comply with EU law on data protection and retention as well as the e-privacy directive.

These include requirements to get explicit consent from users to use and combine their data and create a simple opt-out mechanism for users. Google should also publish how it uses and processes personal data. However, they have steered clear of accusing the software-giant of intentionally breaking the law and of possible fines or other sanctions.

The report concludes a long-running investigation into Google's practices led by French data regulator CNIL starting in March over the ways that Google collects personal data.

Google changed its data collection practices in March after warning customers using its Gmail and Google+ network of the change. It had claimed that the new Privacy Policy, which allows the company to collect and combine data from any of its services, enabled it to improve the accuracy of its search results and targeted adverts and was not in breach of European law.

Following the announcement, Auke Haagsma, director of ICOMP, a group of software companies including Microsoft that campaigns against Google's dominant market status, told this website that the "unprecedented action by close to 30 privacy enforcement agencies all over Europe shows the severity of Google’s violations.”

“Google wants us to believe that enforcing the privacy laws will end the Internet as we know it, but the opposite is true. It is only if users’ trust that their personal data will not be collected and used against their wishes, that they feel confident enough to use all the important possibilities that the internet offers,” he said.

MEPs also lined up to launch broadsides against Google with MEPs Angelika Niebler and Philippe Juvin, who chair the centre-right EPP's working group on Internet policy, commenting that "Google must change its standards and raise them."

For his part, Belgian centre-left MEP Marc Tarabella, said that it was "unacceptable that European consumers are not clearly aware of what Google does with data inputted by them in good faith into the search engine."

Monique Goyens, director general of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), said that the investigation confirmed "our concerns that Google's privacy policy sits on the wrong side of EU data protection rules".

Google said it needs time to come with full response.

"We have received the report and are reviewing it now," said Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel.

"Our new privacy policy demonstrates our long-standing commitment to protecting our users' information and creating great products. We are confident that our privacy notices respect European law."

The ruling comes as the European Parliament prepares to enter negotiations on plans to overhaul EU data protection rules.

The reforms published by the European Commission in January include steps to increase people's control over their personal data, giving them the right to remove their data from company lists. It also tightens the rules on how companies can use data.

Women shake Poland's pillars of power

Polish women are marching again this Sunday and Monday. They could succeed where the opposition, the European Commission and other protests failed, and redraw Poland's political map.

News in Brief

  1. Canada and Wallonia end talks without Ceta deal
  2. Juncker hopes for Canada accord in 'next few days'
  3. Romania drops opposition to Ceta
  4. Difficulties remain on Ceta deal, says Walloon leader
  5. Brexit could lead to 'some civil unrest' in Northern Ireland
  6. ECB holds rates and continues quantitive easing programme
  7. Support for Danish People's Party drops, poll
  8. Spain's highest court overturns Catalan ban on bullfighting

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFADraft Bill for a 2nd Scottish Independence Referendum
  2. UNICEFCalls on European Council to Address Plight of Refugee and Migrant Children
  3. ECTAJoin us on 9-10 November in Brussels and Discover the new EU Digital Landscape
  4. Access NowCan you Hear me now? Verizon’s Opportunity to Stand for Global Users
  5. Belgrade Security ForumMeaningful Dialogue Missing Not Only in the Balkans, but Throughout Europe
  6. EASPDJoin the Trip! 20 Years on the Road. Conference & Photo Exhibition on 19-21 October
  7. EuropecheEU Fishing Sector Celebrates Sustainably Sourced Seafood in EU Parliament
  8. World VisionWomen and Girls Urge EU Leadership to Help end Gender-based Violence
  9. Dialogue PlatformIs Jihadism Blind Spot of Western Intellectuals ? Wednesday 26 October
  10. Belgrade Security ForumGet the Latest News and Updates on the Belgrade Security Forum @BelSecForum
  11. Crowdsourcing Week EuropeMaster Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding and Innovation! Conference 21 November - 10% Discount Code CSWEU16
  12. EJCEU Parliament's Roadmap for Relations with Iran a Massive Missed Opportunity