Friday, February 14, 2014

Google’s French Faux Pas

Google got on the wrong side of the French authorities. The Commissions Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) investigated Google’s privacy policy change from 2012. About two years ago, Google bundled all its services (Google+, Gmail, Blogger, YouTube etc.) into one. This also changed the privacy policies of the separate accounts that users managed separately.

The CNIL came to the conclusion that Google’s new privacy policy didn't give users enough control over their private information. Furthermore, the agency also found that Google did not explain properly what it would do with the user data.

The ruling of the CNIL is quite interesting. Google was forced to pay a fine of €150,000 which is peanuts for the multinational. That’s why the CNIL added some interesting conditions to its ruling.

Google was forced to post a notice about its misconduct on its homepage. Once accessing, the following message (translated into English, for the original text go to features under the search field:

Statement: The sanctions committee of the Commision Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés has ordered Google to pay a €150,000 fine for violations of the ‘Data-Processing and Freedoms’ law. Decision available at the following address:”.

Not underestimating the cleverness of Google, the CNIL also dictated the text of the notice. To avoid the age-old legal trick to use a small font and bury the text as much as possible in order to deter readers, the CNIL also dictated the size of the font and the colors to be used as well as the position of the notification on the homepage.

Google was not happy to say the least. It promptly turned to a French court to petition suspension of the ruling. It argued that posting the CNIL’s notification would do "irreparable damage" to its reputation. The French court was not convinced and rejected the petition, ordering Google to comply with the order.

It’s not the first time Google ran into trouble in Europe; it recently came to an agreement with the European Commission to pay a $5 billion fine following a three-year-long antitrust investigation.

France is the first European country to order Google to post such a notice. It will be interesting to see if more European countries will follow suit.

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