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Google faces EU action over privacy policy

Six data protection agencies launch co-ordinated probe into US web giant's new monitoring powers.

Last Modified: 02 Apr 2013 20:49
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Critics argue Google's new policy gives it an unprecedented ability to monitor its users [GALLO/GETTY]

Six European countries, including France and Britain, have launched a joint action against Google to get the US Internet giant to scale back on new monitoring powers that watchdogs believe violate EU privacy protection rules.

France's Cnil data protection agency said in a statement that the concerted action was launched "on the basis of the provisions laid down in their respective national legislation" to force Google to bring its privacy policy in line with European regulations.

Authorities in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain will also investigate the Internet giant's privacy policy.

The action came after the EU's 27 member states warned Google in October not to apply the new policy, and gave it four months to make changes or face legal action.

When that deadline expired in February, several European data protection agencies set up a task force to pursue a co-ordinated action against the search engine pioneer.

Despite sharp criticism from US and European consumer advocacy groups, Google last year rolled out a common user privacy policy for its services that condensed around 60 previous sets of rules into one and allowed the company to track users more closely to develop targeted advertising.

Among the Google services affected were Gmail, YouTube, the Android mobile system, social networks and its ubiquitous internet search engine.

No changes

Cnil said it had seen no changes to Google's privacy policy since the company's representatives met on March 19 with the task force, which included agencies from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain.

Cnil also said it had notified Google that it had launched an inspection procedure.

Google has repeatedly maintained that its privacy policy respects European law.

In a statement sent to the AFP news agency, the company said "privacy policy respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services. We have engaged fully with the data protection agencies involved throughout this process, and we'll continue to do so going forward".

But critics argue that the new policy gives the operator of the world's largest search engine an unprecedented ability to monitor its users.

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding welcomed the move.

"It is good to see that six national data protection authorities are teaming up to enforce Europe's common data protection rules," she said in an emailed comment.

"I am confident that the European Parliament and the EU member states will strengthen Europe's enforcement tools substantially in the course of this year."

Still, the news took little toll on Google's shares, which in mid-day New York trading were 1.12 percent higher at $810.15, while the Nasdaq index of technology shares was up by 1.04 percent overall.

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