Google breaks Dutch privacy laws says watchdog

Chris Davies - Nov 28, 2013
Google breaks Dutch privacy laws says watchdog

Google‘s unified privacy policy and its sharing between services have seen it fall foul of another European country’s data protection rules, with Dutch authorities accusing the search giant of breaking the law. “Google spins an invisible web of our personal data, without our consent” the Dutch data protection authority said today, revealing that it has invited representatives to attend a hearing after which possible sanctions or other enforcement measures will be decided upon.

“​With its services, Google reaches almost every person in the Netherlands with internet access. It is almost impossible not to use Google services on the Internet” the Dutch investigation concluded. “Google does not adequately inform users about the combining of their personal data from all these different services. On top of that, Google does not offer users any (prior) options to consent to or reject the examined data processing activities. The consent, required by law, for the combining of personal data from different Google services cannot be obtained by accepting general (privacy) terms of service.”

It’s not the first time Google has come under fire over the way it handles privacy. The company billed the changes to its privacy policies as an actual advantage to users, condensing more than sixty individual policies for different services like Gmail, YouTube, and search, and replacing them with a single agreement written in more understandable terms.

The agreement also made clear how data could be shared between those services, potentially improving the overall experience. For instance, Google suggested, combining calendar awareness with Google Maps might allow users to see more appropriate traffic warnings given their likely destinations.

That combining of user information was, Google insisted, something that had been permitted under the previous versions of the policies, but was nonetheless latched upon by privacy advocates. Widespread criticism followed, culminating in the EU informing Google earlier this year that it must rewrite its policies or face sanctions.

Google maintains no wrongdoing has taken place, but says it will continue to work with Dutch authorities as the matter is hammered out. “We have engaged fully with the Dutch DPA throughout this process” a spokesperson said, “and will continue to do so going forward.”

Meanwhile, the company is believed to be working on an alternative system to tracking cookies that might alleviate some of the concerns. Known as AdID, the system would supposedly have more options for blocking adverts and adjusting what sort of content was shown, as well as automatically resetting on a yearly basis.


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