By unifying its data across services and by offering no opt out, Google is breaking privacy laws in the EU

Google Inc. (GOOG) may be an outspoken critic of spying by the by U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), but these days it's in hot water over spying of its own.  Google was already shown to be circumventing privacy settings in Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Internet Explorer and Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) Safari in a purposeful attempt to disregard users' wishes in order to pump up profits.  Google also was found to be using its Street View cars in a worldwide snooping campaign on those who were naive enough to leave their network unencrypted.
Now Google is ruffling more feathers over its new unified data Terms of Use, which rolled out early last year.  Under its new terms Google and its affiliates -- which include the company's ad-network affiliates -- may put cookies on your computer to track your browsing history.  Further data on your usage of different Google services (e.g. YouTube, Gmail, etc.) is combined into a single profile that Google uses to target ads at you -- a use that Google doesn't explicitly asking your permission for.
The Netherlands has become the latest country to cry foul over this approach.  Dutch data protection director Jacob Kohnstamm says that Google's tactics are not only questionable -- they explicitly violate local privacy laws, "Google spins an invisible web of our personal data, without our consent. And that is forbidden by law."

Search on Google
Dutch regulators say Google's new terms of use violate the law by having no opt-out to monitoring.  [Image Source: Google Images/Unknown]

In The Netherlands, user internet activity is protected under the Dutch Data Protection Act [Wet Bescherming Persoonsgegevens], with the Dutch Data Protection Authority [College Bescherming Persoonsgegevens] (Dutch DPA) tasked with enforcement of the law.  In its press release the Dutch DPA writes:

Google does not adequately inform users about the combining of their personal data from all these different services. On top of that, Google does not offer users any (prior) options to consent to or reject the examined data processing activities. The consent, required by law, for the combining of personal data from different Google services cannot be obtained by accepting general (privacy) terms of service.

In, Europe Google has a more dominant search position than in the U.S.  In the EU, Google has held as much as 86 percent of the search market; currently it has around an 80 percent market share, according to Reuters.  This is much higher than in the U.S., where its market share is currently around 67 percent, according to market research firm Comscore.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam, Netherlands [Image Source: IASA Global]

While Google has tentatively settled an EU complaint accusing it of manipulating search engine results to boost its own services, it's still facing probes, investigations, and fines over the Street View and unified Terms of Service privacy issues.  These regions are looking to make sure that no one is monitoring users without permission -- whether its the U.S. government, or Europe's top search provider (Google).  Google is facing similar fines over the unified user data in France and is under investigation in Germany.  German regulators already fined Google a small sum (€145,000 -- roughly $196,000 USD) last year for the Street View offenses.

Source: Dutch DPA

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