Google has had a torrid time in France recently.  The French data regulator, CNIL, has fined it €150k due to its privacy policy.   The French tax authorities have demanded an additional €1bn in taxation, arguing that it should pay more for profits generated in the country.  Google’s answer is Non, je n’accepte rien.  It’s not just going to accept this.  It will fight back.

That fight back began yesterday when Google apparently travelled to the Conseil d’Etat to appeal against CNIL’s tiny fine, a fine imposed because the company would not explain what happens to French citizens’ personal data gathered from its products.  Although the fine is minuscule, a sum that company earns many times over each day, to accept the fine would be an admission of guilt.  Not something Google could contemplate it seems.  So its legal strategy is to push back through the French courts arguing that its privacy policy complies with EU law and should not need to be adapted to suit the needs of any individual country.  In other words, let’s try to drive a wedge between France and the EU to obfuscate this issue.  Bonne chance with that.

It was only last month that CNIL issued Google with a maximum fine after raising concerns with Google’s consolidated privacy policy, that brought together over 60 separate privacy documents.  This policy came into force in March 2012, even though European data regulators argued that it violated the European Directive on Data Protection.  Following that introduction, CNIL repeatedly asked Google to address its concerns.  It did not. So CNIL imposed a fine and ruled that Google must display a notice about the watchdog’s decision on its French  homepage, stating: “This publicity measure is justified by the extent of Google’s data collection, as well as by the necessity to inform the persons concerned who are not in a capacity to exercise their rights.”   The notice should have been on its home page for just 48 hours.   

Google has argued that this notice requirement should be suspended penning its appeal as it may cause ‘irreparable damage’ to its reputation, according to the Wall Street Journal.  It wants to keep its home page in a ‘virgin state’, according to its lawyer.

CNIL representatives told the hearing that users have a right to know the company had been sanctioned by the regulator.  Why should Google keep this public information private, one wonders.

Google has also been fined €900k in Spain following the implementation of its unified privacy policy.  Other countries are considering action too.  There’s been no action in the UK from our regulator, the Information Commissioner.  Quel surprise.

So, are we seeing the start of a Google fightback, or just good old damage limitation?   We will know soon enough from the company’s response to its French tax demand and its action in Spain.  But what we can read from these events on the other side of the channel is clear: Google has too much to lose from conceding on its unified privacy policy.  It won’t change it.  It won’t provide transparency on its use of data, it seems.  We can only draw the conclusion that they must believe that users are there to be used