Google fined €900,000 by Spain’s privacy watchdog

Inquiry finds internet giant gathering personal data without providing adequate information

A man wears a pair of Google glasses as he stands at Madrid’s Puerta del Sol last week. Photograph: Sergio Perez/Reuters

A man wears a pair of Google glasses as he stands at Madrid’s Puerta del Sol last week. Photograph: Sergio Perez/Reuters

Fri, Dec 20, 2013, 10:30

Spain’s privacy watchdog has fined Google for breaking the country’s data protection law when combining personal information from its many different online services and failing to inform users clearly on how it uses their data.

Although the €900,000 fine is modest for Google, which has a market capitalisation of over $350 billion, the move reflects growing concerns across Europe about the volume of personal data that is held in foreign jurisdictions in so-called cloud storage services.

Under such services, data is stored remotely via the internet instead of on-site, sometimes giving individuals little control over their personal information.

Last month, the Dutch Data Protection Authority also said Google was in breach of its national data privacy law for the same practices while France moved closer to fining the US internet giant in September.

Investigations are taking place in at least three other European countries.

While Google has its European headquarters in Dublin, it has not yet faced any such investigation by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner.

The other investigations were triggered after Google in March 2012 unilaterally imposed new terms of service on users of all its cloud services, which include the YouTube video streaming site, its Gmail email service, and the ubiquitous Google search engine.

That decision triggered privacy investigations in six European countries, including Spain.

“Inspections have shown that Google compiles personal information through close to one hundred services and products it offers in Spain, without providing in many cases the adequate information about the data that is being gathered, why it is gathered and without obtaining the consent of the owners,” said the Spanish Agency for Data Protection in a statement.

Google said it had engaged with the Spanish authorities to explain its privacy policy and would decide on which action to take once it had the opportunity to fully read its report.

The agency said users were not sufficiently informed that Google filtered the content of their emails and files to display advertising and, when it did it, used a terminology that was imprecise, unclear and with generic expressions.

It also said the company was breaking the law by using data it gathered for purposes that are unspecified and keeping this information for an indefinite time, while sometimes hindering users in their right to erase, access or modify this data.

In November Google agreed to pay a $17 million fine to settle allegations that it secretly tracked Web users by placing special digital files on the web browsers of their smartphones.

Reuters

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