Google's privacy policy violates Dutch data protection law, Dutch DPA says

Google spins an invisible web of our personal data, without our consent, the DPA said

Google's practice of combining personal data from different Google services violates the Dutch data protection act, the Dutch data protection authority (DPA) said Thursday. But Google will not face any enforcement actions for now.

In March 2012, Google introduced a new privacy policy that allows Google to share personal data across all its products and services. However, Google made the changes without having adequately informed users, and without asking for their consent, the Dutch DPA said in a news release.

"The investigation shows that Google does not properly inform users which personal data the company collects and combines, and for what purposes," it said. By doing this, Google "spins an invisible web of our personal data, without our consent," which is forbidden by law, the DPA said.

Just inviting users to agree to a general privacy policy and terms of service does not suffice, the Dutch DPA said.

"It is almost impossible not to use Google services on the Internet," the DPA said. Many Internet users in the Netherlands use Google's search, watch videos on YouTube or use Gmail while Google also collects data from people that do not use Google when they visit one of the over 2 million sites worldwide that use its advertising cookies, it added.

Some data is sensitive and can be used by Google for its own purposes, the DPA said. "Data about search queries, location data and videos watched can be combined," it said, adding that Google does not adequately inform users about the combining of their personal data from all these different services and what it does with it.

While Google violates the law, the DPA will not immediately result to enforcement measures, it said. Google was invited to attend a hearing after which the DPA will decide if such measures are necessary.

Google denied the DPA's accusations, saying in an emailed statement that its privacy policy respects European law and allows it to create simpler, more effective services.

"We have engaged fully with the Dutch DPA throughout this process and will continue to do so going forward," Google added.

The new privacy policy introduced worldwide is also under scrutiny in other European countries. The French data protection authority CNIL has been leading an investigation of Google's privacy policy changes on behalf of all European data protection authorities. In September, CNIL said it would consider fining Google €150,000.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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