AMSTERDAM Nov 28 Google's practice of
combining personal data from its many different online services
violates Dutch data protection law, the country's privacy
watchdog said on Thursday following a seven-month investigation.
The Dutch Data Protection Authority asked Google to attend a
meeting to discuss its concerns, after which it would decide
whether to take any action against the cloud services, internet
search and advertising giant, which could include fines.
Google, responding to the Dutch authority's findings, said it
provided users of its services with sufficiently specific
information about the way it processed users' personal data.
The Dutch decision reflects concerns across Europe about the
volume of personal data that is held in foreign jurisdictions in
so-called "cloud" storage services, where data is stored
remotely via the Internet instead of on-site, giving individuals
little control over their personal information.
Privacy campaigners have also pointed to documents leaked by
the former CIA agent Edward Snowden that suggest U.S.
intelligence services have access to material stored in
U.S.-based cloud services.
"Google spins an invisible web of our personal data, without
consent," said Jacob Kohnstamm, the chairman of the DPA. "That
is forbidden by law."
In March 2012, Google unilaterally imposed new terms of
service on users of all its cloud services, which include the
YouTube video streaming site, the GMail email service, and the
ubiquitous Google search engine.
That decision triggered privacy investigations in six
European countries, though the fines regulators can typically
impose are modest.
In France, the maximum fine is 300,000 euros, whereas in the
Netherlands, a spokeswoman for the agency said Google - which
has a market capitalisation of over $350 billion - would have
been fined about a million euros for a similar breach if it had
not subsequently complied.
"Google does not properly inform users which personal data
the company collects and combines, and for what purposes," the
DPA said in a statement.
The report said it was "almost impossible" for a Dutch
internet user not to interact with Google "be it via Search,
YouTube or Maps, or passively through third-party websites".