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European agencies launch campaign against Google over privacy

Data protection agencies from six European countries have announced plans to crack down on Google over the search giant's failure to make changes to its privacy policy.

The UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain have kicked off an "inspection procedure" against Google. The effort is being led by France's CNIL (Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés), which is representing the European Commission's Article 29 Working Party. The inquiry could mean fines for Google.

The CNIL's battle with Google goes back about a year. At issue is an update to Google's privacy policy that went into effect on 1 March, 2012. The revamp consolidated 70 or so privacy policies across Google's products down to one. But with this change, Google also switched to one profile for users across all services rather than separate logs for offerings like YouTube, Search, and Blogger.

It's that account consolidation bit that had privacy advocates up in arms. In early February 2012, the Article 29 Working Party asked Google to "pause" its privacy policy update, but Google declined. By October, CNIL issued several recommendations that covered how Google might improve its privacy policies, but Google did not make any changes.

In February 2013, CNIL criticised Google for not responding to its privacy-related inquiries in a timely fashion. The CNIL said today that Google met with CNIL and the five other data protection agencies on 19 March, but "following this meeting, no change has been seen" - prompting today's more formal inquiry.

In a statement, Google said its "privacy policy respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services. We have engaged fully with the DPAs involved throughout this process, and we'll continue to do."

Google has already tangled with CNIL. In March 2011, it handed down a fine of 100,000 Euros against Google for the unauthorised collection of data via Wi-Fi networks.

The news, meanwhile, comes the same day that Google announced that its privacy director, Alma Whitten, will step down in June.