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UK Information Commissioner’s Office Force Google To Clarify Privacy Policy

January 30, 2015 - Written By David Steele

An investigation by the British Information Commissioner’s Office found that Google’s privacy statement was too vague and has required Google to sign a “formal undertaking” to make changes to the policy by the 30 June, 2015. The Information Commissioner’s Office is also insisting that Google takes further steps to clarify its privacy policy over the next two years and ruled that the current policy does not include sufficient information for service users explaining how, why and where their personal data was being collected. The ruling follows an extensive investigation into Google, carried out in conjunction with other European Data Protection Authorities, and follows a change in Google’s privacy policy from March 2012 that consolidated seventy existing policies into the one document, pooling all of the data collected from users across all Google services, including YouTube, Gmail and Google+. We’ve already seen Spanish and French authorities fine Google over their privacy policy but here, Google have avoided a financial penalty. This written, the Spanish fine amounted to just over $1 million, compared with their 2014 earnings of around $60 billion.

Steve Eckersley, Head of Enforcement at the Information Commissioner’s Office, had this to say on the matter: “Whilst our investigation concluded that this case hasn’t resulted in substantial damage and distress to consumers, it is still important for organisations to properly understand the impact of their actions and the requirement to comply with data protection law. Ensuring that personal data is processed fairly and transparently is a key requirement of the Act.” Essentially, because Google’s vague privacy policy hasn’t distressed consumers or cost them money, there is no financial penalty for Google. The ICO also has plans to update its Privacy Notices Code Practice later this year so as to better provide organisations with guidance about how to provide effective privacy information, particularly in online and mobile environments.

We’ve seen a number of “serious concerns” raised by privacy groups around the world regarding how online companies, mostly search engines, social media websites and similar, accumulate data about internet users. The ruling against Google is likely to make a change in how companies explain their services and data collection across the industry, starting in the United Kingdom. Google use information collected about customers and Internet users for their advertising businesses, which form the majority of their revenue. Over to our readers: do you carefully read a privacy policy and do you understand the implications of what a company may do with your data? Or do you wish there was a “Whatever” button added to the “Agree” and “Disagree” buttons at the bottom of a long winded privacy policy statement page? Let us know in the comments below.