Google reportedly could potentially be fined $1 billion for shortcomings in its data privacy policies under new laws being finalized in the European Union.
The new rules will allow European nations, which have stricter data privacy rules than in the United States, to force companies like Google to adhere to those tougher rules or face fines, according to a Feb. 19 report from Reuters. Under the new European laws, one government entity in the EU could represent all the EU nations in a claim against Google or another company that doesn't comply with European data privacy laws, the story stated.
"The one-stop-shop regulator could threaten a company which does not obey the rules with a fine of up to 2 percent of global turnover," Viviane Reding, the European Union's commissioner for justice, told Reuters. The Google case from the EU is an example of a situation where the full 2 percent fine would be pursued, Reding said.
In Google's case, with some $50 billion in annual revenue in 2012, that could mean a $1 billion fine for the company if it is punished by the EU. Fines for data privacy infractions today are far lower in individual European nations, with penalties ranging from $401,619 to $803,228, based on the case, the report stated.
"Reding said that the ongoing dispute between EU data protection regulators and search engine Google showed the weaknesses of the current system, which relies on each country identifying and punishing privacy breaches," Reuters reported.
One of the key issues that is arising in Europe surrounds Google's handling of personal user data. Google "has been combining data from across its sites so it can improve the way it tailors its advertising to individuals," according to a Feb. 19 story by The Daily Mail. That sharing of data is one of the main reasons for the controversy abroad.
Google's privacy policies have been particularly criticized in Europe. In October 2012, the EU issued a report saying that Google wasn't being clear enough about how it uses consumer data that it collects.
Privacy issues surrounding Google and its use of consumer data have been on the minds of regulators in Europe and the United States for some time.
The biggest change that was enacted concerned Google's user accounts. When users are signed in, Google may combine identity information users provided from one service with information from other services. The goal is to treat each user as one individual across all Google products, such as Gmail, Google Docs, YouTube and other Web services.
Google claims this will lead to a simpler user experience, but it will also make it impossible for users to opt out of having their identities applied to dozens of Websites they might not have agreed to use.