Skip to main content

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

By Oliver Joy, CNN
April 3, 2013 -- Updated 1549 GMT (2349 HKT)
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
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
The possibility of pockets of air remaining within the hull of the sunken South Korean ferry offers hope to rescuers -- and relatives -- say experts.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Despite hundreds still missing after the sinking of a South Korean ferry, reports of text messages keep hope alive that there may be survivors yet.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1614 GMT (0014 HKT)
An Iranian mother slaps and then forgives her 17-year old son's murderer in dramatic scenes at the gallows.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests or political reform are still censored in China.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2131 GMT (0531 HKT)
Russia's propaganda worse now than at height of Cold War, says Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at AEI.
Sanctions imposed against Russia are working as a deterrent, President Barack Obama and other White House senior administration officials said.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 0440 GMT (1240 HKT)
A lack of progress in the search for MH370 is angering the families of victims.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1509 GMT (2309 HKT)
The searches for the Titanic and Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 share common techniques.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
This year's Pyongyang marathon was open to foreign amateurs.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
How are police preparing for this year's 26.2-mile marathon, which takes place Monday?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1702 GMT (0102 HKT)
Katrina Karkazis
Romance is hard, for anyone. For people with intersex traits, love poses unique challenges.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2126 GMT (0526 HKT)
The "kill switch," a system for remotely disabling smartphones and wiping their data, will become standard in 2015.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1552 GMT (2352 HKT)
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT