Unprecedented EU Action Against Google

In January 2012 Google’s Director of privacy, Alma Whitten, announced that the 70 separate Google privacy documents would be simiplifed into one main policy. The move was positioned as a step towards a more simple and intuitive user experience, but privacy law is complex and cramming 70 detailed documents into one “simple” policy rang alarm bells in Europe, where Google boasts an astonishing 95% share of the search market.

It all began with a report by the French data-privacy company, CNIL, which concluded that Google needed to provide greater transparency on how users data is stored across multiple Google platforms so that users can access the data and have an ability to manage it. Google were issued with a four month deadline but to nobody’s surprise they demonstrated little interest in investing resources in a system that would almost certainly result in long term data reduction. The deadline expired on Sunday.

At this point it seemed like that would probably be the end of it. Google might, worst case scenario, be sued for up to 300,000 Euros, which based on 2012 earnings I calculate to be approximate 4 minutes 3 seconds work. However, over the last few days things have become more complicated. On Monday Alma Whitten stepped down as Director of Privacy (all completely unrelated according to Google) and then on Tuesday regulators from five more EU nations, including the UK, joined forces with France to launch a joint action against the search colossus.

This is the first time EU nations have ever collaborated in formal proceedings against a single company, and it could be a game changer. While unlikely, new regulation expected to be approved by the enf of 2013, could theoretically expose Google to a fine of up to 2% of global turnover, approximately $1 billion. Suddenly the regulators have teeth.

Looks like it could be an interesting year ahead for Whitten’s successor, Lawrence You.


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