British and German privacy watchdogs have ordered Google to change its European privacy policy or face legal sanctions.

The U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information have each given the search engine giant a set amount of time to comply with their demands.

An ICO spokesperson said Google’s privacy policy, updated 15 months ago, “raises serious questions about its compliance with the U.K. Data Protection Act.”

“In particular, we believe that the updated policy does not provide sufficient information to enable U.K. users of Google’s services to understand how their data will be used across all of the company’s products,” the ICO spokesperson said in a statement.

“Google must now amend (its) privacy policy to make it more informative for individual service users.”

If Google fails to take action to amend its policies by Sept. 20, the company could face “formal enforcement action,” the spokesperson said.

Hamburg Commissioner Johannes Caspar said Google’s privacy policy “violates the company’s commitment to full transparency” of how it handles users’ data. He described Google’s current policy as “vague.”

The decisions by both Britain and Germany are not unexpected. Just three weeks ago, France’s data protection authority — the Commission Nationale de L’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) — gave Google three months to make changes to its privacy policy or face fines.

France, which is leading the battle against Google’s data collection in Europe, said at that time five other countries — Spain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom — planned to take similar action against the technology giant.

Spain announced last month it had opened “a sanction procedure for the infringement of key principles of the Spanish Data Protection Law.”

Data protection agencies, led by the CNIL, are taking action because Google has done little to adhere to recommendations made by European regulators last fall.  Google was told on Oct. 16, 2012 it had four months to change its privacy policy.

In its Oct. 16 ruling, the CNIL said Google had failed to set “any limit concerning the scope of the collection and the potential uses of the personal data.”

Despite having eight months to make the requested changes — double the original time frame given —Google has not “implemented any significant compliance measures,” the CNIL said in a recent press release.

If Google does not comply with the demands of the data protection agencies, the company will face fines from each country. It is thought France’s fine will amount to just shy of $200,000 — little more than pocket change for a company the size of Google. The agency would have to prove individuals had been harmed by the policy for the CNIL to be able to issue its maximum fine of $744,000.

Even if the all five countries were able to issue their maximum fines against Google, combined, the fines would not even make a dent in the company’s well-stuffed coffers.

Google, for instance, pulled in $14 billion in revenue in the first quarter of this year — and much of that revenue was from targeted advertising — the reason why the search engine firm collects user data.

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Google Facing Fines Over Data Collection Policy in U.K., Germany

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Google Facing Fines Over Data Collection Policy in U.K., Germany


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