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Privacy

EU taskforce takes legal action against Google

Six European countries, including Germany and France, have launched legal action against internet giant Google in a bid to get the company to tighten privacy settings watchdogs believe violate EU privacy regulations.

Led by France's National Commission of Information Technology and Liberty (CNIL), Germany, France, Britain, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy on Tuesday agreed to launch joint legal action on the way the world's largest search engine collects and stores data on users of its services.

Despite criticism from US and European consumer advocacy groups, Google initiated a common user privacy policy across its YouTube, Gmail and Google+ platforms in 2012 giving them unprecedented powers to track user data and develop targeted advertising.

In October 2012, the 27-member bloc European Union warned Google against applying its new privacy policy, giving the company four months to make changes, such as allowing users to opt-out on having their data pooled.

A task force made up of several European Data protection agencies was established when the deadline expired in February. Google met with the taskforce's commissioners in March in an attempt to resolve the dispute and demanded the US company provide information on the data it planned to collect and the exact purpose it would serve.

"No one is against Google's objective of simplicity. It's legitimate. But it needs to be accompanied by transparency for consumers and the ability to say yes or no," CNIL head Isabelle Falque Pierrotin said in recent interview. "Consumers have the right to know how the information is being used and what's being done with it," she added.

CNIL maintains it has not seen any change to the company's internet privacy policy since meeting with company representatives.

"Following this meeting, no change has been seen ... Consequently, all the authorities composing the taskforce have launched actions on 2 April 2013 on the basis of the provisions laid down in their respective national legislation (investigations, inspections, etc)," CNIL wrote in a statement released on their website.

Following Tuesday's decision to launch legal action, Antonello Soro from the Italian Data Protection Agency told the DPA news agency, "Google cannot collect and process European citizens' personal data while ignoring the fact that there are precise rules in the European Union protecting EU citizens' fundamental rights."

Google maintains its user privacy code complies with European law and is aimed at improving user experience.

In a statement released to the news agency AFP, Google said its "privacy policy respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services. We have engaged fully with the data protection agencies involved throughout this process, and we'll continue to do so going forward."

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding hailed the action, telling AFP in an email "it is good to see that six national data protection authorities are teaming up to enforce Europe's common data protection rules," adding "I am confident that the European Parliament and the EU Member States will strengthen Europe's enforcement tools substantially in the course of this year."

The policy, analysts said Tuesday, was an attempt to boost advertising revenue which made up 96-percent of the company's earnings in 2011.

jlw/dr (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)