Google gets 3 months to fix privacy or face French fines

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France has given Google Inc three months to amend its policy regarding Internet users’ data to avoid fines, while adding that, other European countries will follow suit by the end of July.

A statement by France’s National Commission for Computing and Civil Liberties (CNIL), said the U.S. search engine giant is breaching French laws because it, “prevents individuals from knowing how their personal data may be used and from controlling such use.” It ordered Google to comply with the French Data Protection Act.

“France, Spain, the U.K. at the start of next week and Germany at the end of next week will all take a formal and official decision to start repressive proceedings against Google, and a second salvo will come from Italy and the Netherlands by the end of July,” Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, Chairwoman of the French authority, said.

Regarding Gmail messaging service, the French data protection watchdog ordered the company to spell out for users why it collects information “to understand practically the processing of their personal data,” better inform users of its privacy policy, and “define retention periods of personal data processed that do not exceed the period necessary for the purposes for which they are collected,” CNIL said.

CNIL is also asking the owner of the Gmail messaging system to request users’ permission for “the potentially unlimited combination” of their data.

CNIL vowed to levy a maximum fine of 150,000 euros ($198,000), and 300,000 euros in case of a repeated offense, she said. Other regulators may impose sanctions of up to 1 million euros, potentially exposing Google to “several million euros” of fines on top of damaging its image, she said.

The French watchdog’s most severe fine to date was 100,000 euros against Google in 2011 for breaches related to its Street View mapping service. Hamburg’s data privacy regulator in April fined Google 145,000 euros for collecting wireless-network data from 2008 to 2010 by its cars taking photos for the Street View service.

Google faces probes across Europe over changes to harmonize privacy policies for more than 60 products last year. Global data protection regulators this week wrote to the Mountain View, California-based company urging Chief Executive Officer Larry Page to contact them about possible issues with its web-enabled eyeglasses, called Google Glass.

“Our privacy policy respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services,” Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels, said by phone. “We have engaged fully with the data protection authorities involved throughout this process and will continue to do so going forward,” he concluded

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