France's privacy regulator, the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), has decided to take action on Google over their privacy policy. The international privacy regulator says that Google has failed to comply with its standards for privacy transparency in Google's privacy policy, and has issued the search giant a fine of $400,000, or roughly €296,000. Watch today's Daily Brown Bag to learn about the suit that the French privacy regulator, CNIL, has issued to Google and what it could reveal about Google's stance on search privacy.


Hello, and welcome to our video today where we’re going to be talking about a recent fine that the French government imposed on Google. I’m Chad Hill and I’m joined by Adam Stetzer.

Good morning, Chad. Google is obviously the dominant search engine, we all know that. They’re currently at about 114 billion searches made each month on their search engine, and that pulls in a lot of ad revenue. They’re on clip for a little over $38 billion in revenue from ads in 2013. But, they’ve been exploring new and interesting ways to serve up personalized ads, and that has gotten the attention of regulators around the world.

The breaking news today is what France has done. They have leveled a $400,000 fine against Google, saying that Google failed to change their Google privacy policy, which is something they gave them three months to do in the earlier part of this summer. So, we’ve got some interesting politics coming down as this fight for search privacy, and what ads I can show, and what I can do with your data starts to come to fruition. So what’s the real issue here? Let’s dig into this.

Well, I think the first thing is to look at what France specifically asked Google to do. There’s four things they asked for. They wanted Google to define how the data would be used, how the data is collected and how long it would be kept, cease unlimited combination of data across services, and I think that’s the really important one here, and the fourth was to inform users and get consent before storing cookies, which again is a pretty big burden. So, I think those last two are the ones that are probably the most contentious, because I think what Google is trying to do, as you said, Adam, is, as they develop other franchises (they started with search, but they now have Google Apps and they’re working on Google Plus), they want to combine all the information they’re getting from you across all those services to probably enhance the service itself, but also, as you said, to better serve ads. So, that idea that they have to get your explicit permission as you move from service to service really does create a bit of a burden, and it also does diminish the business case they’ve made for these other investments they’re making.

Right, and so the French regulators said to Google, “We’re not happy with this. You’ve got three months to comply,” and then Google, what did it say in response? It basically did not comply, although they’ve got a statement here. I’ll read a quote. “Our privacy policy respects the European law and allows us to create simpler and more effective services.” So, I think they’re taking this head-on. Maybe they’re viewing the $400,000 fine just as too small to care, but I think that’s probably not the case.

They’re more looking at the precedent and probably, as you said, Chad, they need this way of doing business and they don’t want to set a precedent where other governments will start following suit behind the French and start coming after them. So, it’s admittedly a grey area as we forge through what this new internet-based economy means with this search giant having pretty much what most people are calling a monopoly in this space. So, it will be very interesting to see what happens. You and I were chatting just a little bit about some of the other things going down around Gmail and privacy there, I guess some recent turmoil in California, here in the United States.

Absolutely. There was a recent case I read about in an article over the weekend about a federal court that said there was a case around whether or not the way that Gmail inspects your e-mail for serving ads around it somehow violated the wire-tapping laws that the U.S. government has. As you said, Adam, it’s a brave new world out here, and what often happens is that it certainly is played out in some of the monopoly claims that sometimes the laws that are on the books are kind of hard to apply to these cutting edge businesses, and Google is really as cutting edge as it gets. So, I think a lot of people expect the EU to be ultimately where a lot of the shake-out goes down, because they have more stringent laws on privacy than the U.S. does, but it’s going to be very interesting to watch this over the coming years, I think.

I think it should be fascinating, particularly with the Android mobile operating system gaining steam and seeming, now, to overtake Apple in terms of embedded OS on mobile devices. So, this issue of privacy and following people around, now on a mobile device where it actually has GPS information about exactly where you’re standing on this Earth, I mean it’s just going to be fascinating to watch as it unfolds. We’re very interested in your thoughts and what your opinions are about Google and their use of your data and privacy on the internet. Please share them in the comments, and we hope you will subscribe to our videos.