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Six EU nations take on Google privacy terms

Google privacy terms are under fire in Europe

Google privacy terms are under fire in Europe for lacking transparency. Above, a Google Street View camera in the Netherlands. (March 19, 2009) Credit: EPA

Google's new privacy policy is under legal attack from regulators in its largest European markets, who want the company to overhaul practices they say let it create a data gold mine at the expense of unwitting users.

Led by the French, organizations in Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Italy agreed Tuesday on joint action, with the ultimate possibility of imposing fines or restrictions on operations across the entire 27-country European Union. Each of the six European states bringing legal action against Google has to make its own decision on how to handle perceived violations.

Last year, Google merged 60 separate privacy policies from around the world into one universal procedure. The European organizations complain the new policy doesn't allow users to figure out which information is kept, how it is combined by Google services or how long the company retains it.

The fines' financial impact on Google Inc. would be limited -- French privacy watchdog CNIL has the right to fine the company up to 300,000 euros ($385,000), approximately the amount of revenue it generates in three minutes, based on its projected revenue of $61 billion this year. Britain can fine up to 500,000 pounds ($755,000), but rarely does.

But successful legal action would hurt Google's image and could block its ability to collect such data until it addresses the regulators' concerns.

Google dominates the European market for Internet searches. According to one survey, as much as 95 percent of searches in Europe are carried out through Google, compared with about 65 percent in the United States. European regulators have demanded specifics for anyone using Google on what's being collected and a simpler presentation.

In Europe, privacy laws tend to be strong, and nearly every country has a regulatory body. But Internet users have consistently shown a willingness to give up privacy in exchange for convenience and new online services that Google and other tech companies offer.

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