In the latest in a series of setbacks in Europe, Google was ordered this week by Germany to stop "profiling" users in that country. According to a German regulatory agency, Google is secretly creating "meaningful and nearly and comprehensive personal records" of its users that violate both German and EU laws.
"Google has not been willing to abide to the legally binding rules and refused to substantially improve the user's [privacy] controls," Hamburg Commissioner of Data Protection and Freedom of Information Johannes Caspar said. "So we had to compel Google to do so by an administrative order. Our requirements aim at a fair balance between the concerns of the company and its users ... The company must treat the data of its millions of users in a way that respects their privacy adequately while they use the various services of the company."
The legal showdown between Google and various German regulatory agencies came to a head after the search giant failed to remediate multiple violations of the Federal Telemedia Act and the Federal Data Protection Act, which require the firm to collect user data "only in accordance with the existing legal framework."
"Google is ordered to take the necessary technical and organizational measures to guarantee that their users can decide on their own if and to what extend their data is used for profiling," the order reads. In other words, Google must get a user's permission before it can use their personal data to create an online user profile that works across multiple services.
Oddly enough, Germany did not conclude that Google was using this information to build targeted advertising, though that is exactly what Google does. Instead, it is the secret aggregation of personal information that is illegal under German law.
Google faces a ridiculously small fine of $1.27 million for violating Germany privacy laws but says it is studying the order to determine its next steps. (Google earned over $15 billion in revenues in the most recent quarter.) Given the sensitivity of the privacy concerns, and Google's numerous other problems in Europe, it may actually work to solve this problem.
"The issue is up to Google now,” Mr. Caspar noted.