German Court Rules Google Privacy Policy Violates Data Protection Laws

googleOn Tuesday, the Regional Court of Berlin ruled that Google’s privacy policy and terms of service (ToS) violate Germany’s data protection laws.

The case, which was brought on by the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV), states that clauses within the documents are vaguely formulated and restrict the rights of consumers.  The VZBV had issues with 13 privacy policy clauses and 12 terms of service clauses, all of which were ruled unlawful by the court.

The decision could have far-reaching implications for Google, although it can still appeal the ruling.  Google has stated that they do intend to appeal the court’s decision.  If Google loses the appeal and does not make changes to its privacy policy and ToS, they could be fined $338,500 per clause, putting the total payout at nearly $8.5 million in fines.

Google’s current practice of requesting its users to check a box to indicate they agree to its terms of service and have read the privacy policy does not observe German law, VZBV’s policy officer for legal enforcement Bianca Skutnik told IDG News.

“When it is final Google will have to change a lot, change its privacy policy and terms and conditions,” Skutnik said. But the federation will have to be patient: “If we’re lucky” the court of appeal will make a decision by the end of next year”, she said.

Google’s German privacy policy states it “may collect device-specific information,” which the VZBV takes issue with.  They also object to Google’s practice of collecting data on users’ locations and their phone numbers.

Google’s latest privacy policy has created a lot of headaches for them.  France’s Commission Nationale de L’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information have all made demands that Google change its privacy policy.  Spain, Italy and the Netherlands are also planning to take similar action against Google.

If Google does not comply with the demands of these data protection agencies, the company will face fines from each country.  Even if the all five countries find Google guilty and issue the maximum fines against them, combined, the fines would not even make a dent in the company’s finances.

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