French regulators, the National Commission on Computing and Freedom (CNIL, the acronym comes from the French name) announced that they will fine Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) more than $400,000 for failing to comply with privacy rules, and other countries may follow suit, the AP reported earlier today.


Google hasn’t complied with required changes

CNIL says that Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) hasn’t complied with required changes outline last June, such as giving more detailed information about what it does with user data and how long the data is stored. “Our privacy policy respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services. We have engaged fully with CNIL throughout this process and will continue to do so going forward,” said Google spokesman Al Verney.

This raises important questions for practically any major tech company. Implementing separate protocols for handling data from French citizens is impractical and would be prohibitively expensive (and possibly not very effective), forcing it to choose between privacy guidelines that match the strictest laws of any country it’s active in, or risking fines around the world. Smaller companies don’t attract as much notice and can more easily abandon a single foreign market if necessary, but there’s no way Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) can simply turn its back on Europe, and the day it escapes notice, government fines will be the least of its worries.

Changing policies could signal Google easily pressured

Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands are considering similar measures, and in addition to the fairly small fines, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) risks damaging its reputation if it is involved in several protracted fights regarding user privacy, so you can’t say that the issue is unimportant. On the other hand, changing its policies without a fight would signal that the company can be easily pressured by government action. A sort of ‘race to the top’ of corporate transparency might be good for users, but it surely isn’t something that Google is interested in.

Once NCIL brings formal sanctions against Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), the process will still take months and the fines announced today may not hold, but as a company that has said it wants to organize the world’s data, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) shouldn’t be surprised that it has become a target for privacy advocates.