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Google's privacy policy questioned by EU data authorities

16 October 2012
by BEUC -- last modified 16 October 2012

Data protection authorities across Europe - collectively known the Article 29 Working Party – have today issued their conclusions on Google’s privacy policy changes introduced earlier this year.


After an investigation led by its French member CNIL, the authorities have written to Google CEO Larry Page outlining concerns over the policy's incompatibility with EU data protection laws.

Monique Goyens, Director General of The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) commented:

"The investigation confirms our concerns that Google's privacy policy sits on the wrong side of EU data protection rules. 29 unanimous European Data Protection Authorities leave no room for ambiguity. They have concluded that Google are failing consumers' fundamental rights to personal data protection and privacy.

"The purpose of Google's privacy policy was to centralise personal data gathered from its delta of services into a single user profile. But this paid no heed to the very different contexts and reasons for which users provided such personal information. Google did not supply its users with proper information and withheld effective means of personal data control. As Article 29 have said, the 'search for simplicity' also comes with unavoidable obligations.

"Key issues such as what type of personal data is collected, for what purpose and for how long it is retained were willfully neglected. These basics are not just mere questions of good practice, but legal obligations. One of the EU's data rules holds that personal data can only be processed for a specific purpose. Combining data across different services without consumers' informed, free and specific consent fails this central obligation. In terms of privacy law, this is a redefinition of convenience by Google, but one which should not be allowed to stand.

"No matter how big a company, European laws and fundamental consumer rights should not be ignored. Indeed, as a pacesetter it's all the more important for Google to comply and be seen to do so.

"The EU is currently revamping its data protection laws and this is a healthy shift towards restoring consumer control over personal data. A mountain of work remains to be done and a priority needs to be further work on establishing effective sanctions in Europe for such cases."

BEUC, The European Consumer Organisation has a membership of 42 well respected, independent national consumer organisations from 31 European countries (EU, EEA and applicant countries). BEUC acts as the umbrella group in Brussels for these organisations and our main task is to represent our members and defend the interests of all Europe's consumers.

BEUC, the European Consumers' Organisation