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Google Could Be Fined Amid Privacy Concerns, Dutch Watchdog Says

Larry Page
Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images
Google CEO Larry Page

A privacy group in the Netherlands claims the search giant is in violation of local data-protection law, adding to attacks against Google on several European fronts.

A privacy watchdog in the Netherlands has joined the growing anti-Google chorus in Europe, claiming the Internet search giant could be fined for violating Dutch data-protection law.

The privacy group, the CBP, claims Google breaches local privacy regulations by sharing users' personal data across its different services -- including its search engine and video streaming site YouTube -- without first informing users and getting their permission. The CBP also said Google is not properly informing Dutch users about what personal data it collects from them and how that info is used for advertising purposes.

"Google spins an invisible web of our personal data, without our consent. And that is forbidden by law," said CBP chairman Jacob Kohnstamm.

The CBP said it had invited Google to attend a hearing to discuss possible additional measures, including a fine, but did not provide details on the possible size of any penalty.

The Dutch group is only the latest in Europe to target Google's privacy polices, which the group consolidated into one in March 2012. There are parallel investigations in several countries. In France, Google faces possible fines after missing a deadline to comply with a court order to change how it handles user data there. Last week, a German court ruled that Google’s integrated privacy policy violates the country's national data-protection law.

Google has maintained that its unified privacy policy, which allows the company to combine data sets across Google properties, benefits consumers because it is simpler than having several independent privacy policies.

Google isn't the only tech company to come under fire in Europe. Apple's privacy policy was also found to be in violation of German privacy laws.

But Google is under attack on several fronts in Europe. The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, has announced plans to close a loophole that allows Google and other major multinationals to avoid paying their fair share of tax by setting up letterbox firms in European countries with favorable tax rates and parking their profits there. The commission's competition group is also investigating claims that Google is distorting fair competition for online services by giving preferential treatment to its own Google businesses in Google search queries. Google has a near-monopoly position in online search in Europe with around 90 percent of the market.

The company's image hasn't been helped by recent revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden that Google (and rival search engine Yahoo) may have been sharing user information with U.S. and British intelligence. The union of German journalists has advised its members to stop using Google and Yahoo for research "until further notice."