EU versus Google – £12 million DPA fine

Google vs EU largerThe pressure on Google over European data privacy issues has been ongoing for several years as EU data protection watchdogs attempt to bring the organisation – and other huge US companies – into line with European data protection principles.

The latest threat to Google comes from Holland, where the Dutch DPA has threatened Google with a fine of up to 15M euros for breaking local laws over how it can use user data.  Google has been given until the end of February 2015 to change the way it handles personal data, before the fine is levied.

Online behaviour used to target advertising

So what has Google done wrong?  The issue is over the way Google uses data about people’s online behaviour to tailor advertisements.  Google builds up a profile for every one of its users based on keywords used in searches, email messages, cookies, location data – even video viewing habits.  However, it does not inform its data subjects that it is collecting and using data in this way, and nor does it obtain consent.

Google’s Data Assets

Google’s data is a core asset for the business, and other businesses like it.  One of Google’s key data privacy issues is that the company has merged all its separate privacy policies into one policy which allows Google to share its user data across all its services – for example, Gmail data and search engine data can be used and combined across the company.  In addition, there is no opt-out for the data subject.

From Google’s point of view, its customer profiling is enhanced considerably by this activity – and advertising to targeted customers is Google’s core revenue stream.  Google also uses customer data to drive new products such as Google now (appointment based app, giving details on how to get to your appointment, where it is, what are the traffic conditions and what time to leave) – a great concept, but one that would be useless without Google’s ability to collect and use data from its users.

It has been clear for some time that the EU is determined to take on the challenge of the giant UK search engines and social media platforms, and curb the way they use data.  Because Google has such a vast share of the market, it, in particular, regularly comes under fire from the EU.

Google Privacy Policy – Fairness and Transparency

The requirement for additional permissions or opt-outs may be more problematic than helpful for Google customers.  But fairness and transparency is an issue that Google could address relatively simply – as a minimum the customer should be informed about the data Google is collecting about him or her, why it is being collected and how it is being used. And a little bit of creativity in the wording would serve to illustrate the benefits to the customer.

The single privacy policy makes such transparency difficult.  So perhaps the simplest solution is to re-establish separate privacy policies for each of its business areas.  That might at least serve to reassure not only the EU, but also the US data protection authorities who have also expressed concerns over Google’s single privacy policy.

Your thoughts and views are always welcome – please add your comments below.  If you have any concerns about your data compliance in general or the impact of EU changes in your business, contact us on 01787 277742.  Or email victoria@datacompliant.co.uk

Services at December 2014

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