Hit Google where it hurts to enforce data protection, urges EU Commissioner

Today's maximum fines are just pocket money to Google, and stronger sanctions are needed to guarantee compliance, said Viviane Reding

The way to get Google to comply with data privacy laws is to hit the company where it hurts: its bank balance, the European Union's Justice Commissioner said Monday.

Although several E.U. countries have found Google's privacy policy breaks data protection laws, the fines handed out are no deterrent, Commissioner Viviane Reding said at the Digital Life Design conference in Munich.

In France Google was fined €150,000 by data protection authorities, while in Spain the search giant was fined €900,000. Those fines, the maximum allowed, were just "pocket money" to Google, Reding said.

"Taking Google's 2012 performance figures, the fine in France represents just 0.0003 percent of its global turnover," she said adding that it was hardly a surprise that even two years after the case emerged Google has still not changed its privacy policy.

"Europeans need to get serious," she said. "If a company has broken the rules and failed to mend its ways, this should have serious consequences."

Under new data protection laws proposed by Reding, sanctions could be up to two percent of global annual turnover. In the Google case, that would have meant a fine of €731 million ($1 billion).

Google remains under investigation by authorities in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Great Britain.

Meanwhile, the future of data protection enforcement at the E.U. level remains uncertain, as the mandate of the current European Data Protection Supervisor has expired with no successor appointed. The term of office of the incumbent, Peter Hustinx, ran out last Thursday. His head of communication, Olivier Rossignol, said that Hustinx had spoken to the European Commission and would meet the European Parliament's justice committee this week with a view to possibly staying on the role until a replacement can be found.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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