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World regulators gang up on Google

Eric Pfanner (via NYT/ AFR) | April 3, 2013
Instead of facing one European investigation into its privacy policy, Google now has to contend with at least six of them.

Each of the national regulators now investigating Google has different procedures and enforcement powers.

In France, for example, the C.N.I.L. can fine privacy violators up to €300,000, or about $US390,000; a drop in the bucket for a global giant like Google. In some countries, regulators can bring criminal complaints; in others they cannot.

The European Commission, led by its vice president, Viviane Reding, has been pushing for an overhaul of the bloc's privacy laws, under which data protection would be centrally regulated across the 27 countries. But the idea faces opposition from some member states.

The announcement on Tuesday means the investigations into the privacy policy could continue for months, during which time Google could continue to keep the system in place.

"It is essential regulators find a sanction that is not just a slap on the wrists and will make Google think twice before it ignores consumer rights again," Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, a privacy advocacy group in Britain.

Meanwhile, Google this week announced plans to replace its director of privacy for product and engineering, Alma Whitten, who helped create the privacy policy. Lawrence You, who helped start the team, will take over.

The privacy team at Google, which has 350 employees, was started in 2010 after two major privacy blunders at the company involving improper data collection by Street View cars and Buzz, an ill-fated social networking tool.

The employees do things like coach Google engineers on adding more privacy-friendly features to products, build tools like dashboards for Google users to control how their information is shared and make it more difficult for hackers to break into Gmail accounts.

The company said that Ms. Whitten's retirement, though she is in her 40s, had been planned and was unrelated to the EU news.

"Alma has done so much to improve our products and protect our users," Chris Gaither, a Google spokesman, said in a statement. "The privacy and security teams, and everyone else at Google, will continue this hard work to ensure that our users' data is kept safe and secure."



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