Skip to main content

EU watchdogs need 'teeth' to clamp down on privacy breaches

By Oliver Joy, CNN
updated 11:49 AM EDT, Wed April 3, 2013
Data watchdogs from the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands are launching a joint action against U.S. search-engine giant Google
Data watchdogs from the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands are launching a joint action against U.S. search-engine giant Google
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Current EU data privacy rules only allow for fines of up to $1.3 million on corporates
  • Joint action against U.S. search-engine Google over alleged breaches of EU privacy rules
  • In March, Google was hit by 100,000 euro fine from France's privacy watchdog, CNIL

(CNN) -- European regulators need effective deterrents to stop Internet companies breaching data protection laws, according to the European Union justice department.

The call comes as data watchdogs from the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands team up to launch a joint action against U.S. search-engine giant Google over alleged breaches of EU privacy rules.

The joint action by Europe's heavyweights is a response to Google's announcement in January on new privacy settings. The Mountain View-based group said it collects and compiles data about its users based on their activity on its various sites -- from its search page to Gmail to YouTube to phones running its Android operating system.

Yesterday, it was announced that Google's first privacy director, Alma Whitten, would be stepping down after three years in the job.

Read more: Opinion: Is the social web an asteroid for the Google dinosaur?

The current EU rules only allow for fines of up to 1 million euros ($1.3 million) on corporates that breach data protection sanctions.

But a new EU-wide directive that could come into force at the end of this year will give regulators the power to impose penalties of up to 2% of a multinational's global annual turnover.

Mina Andreeva, a spokesperson for EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, told CNN that Google has not followed up on the "concrete recommendations" made in October last year.

Read more: Google launches monthly user-activity feature

Andreeva added that new rules are designed to give regulators "teeth" and ensure that companies respect consumer privacy. "We need effective and deterrent sanctions," she said, "If a big international company is fined 1 million euros, they just laugh about it and continue breaching data privacy."

In a statement, a Google spokesperson said: "Our privacy policy respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services," adding that Google would continue to engage fully with the data protection authorities on the matter.

Read more: Solving 'the Google problem' key to Internet's success

Andreeva rejected the idea that the new rules will deter U.S. or non-EU companies from investing in the 27-nation single market but said that customers are not willing to trade privacy for money.

"They [Google] have a market opportunity with 500 million potential customers and this is an opportunity not to be missed but they must respect the data protection rules that we have," she told CNN.

In March, Google was hit by a fine from France's privacy watchdog, CNIL, over data obtained mistakenly through the company's Street View service. The 100,000 euro fine was the largest ever dished out by the French regulator.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Tethered to an IV drip, 71-year-old Shin Young Ja lies under a thin fleece blanket, nursing a broken back and wracked with survivor's guilt.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Family members of the missing passengers are pinning slim hopes on floundering air pockets.
updated 12:14 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
An Iranian mother slaps and then forgives her 17-year old son's murderer in dramatic scenes at the gallows.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests or political reform are still censored in China.
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
The Hadza are one of the last communities of hunter-gatherers in the world -- but losing their land.
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
In choosing to change a traditional practice, Francis is being as radical as Jesus was in his own time.
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Too weak. Can't handle pressure. Unattractive to sponsors. Susie Wolff has heard it all.
updated 6:28 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
It's like finding a needle in a universe-wide haystack. Researchers have located a planet roughly the size of Earth that could be habitable.
updated 5:40 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Dubai, long champion of all things biggest, longest and most expensive, will soon have some competition from a neighboring country.
ADVERTISEMENT