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France fines Google over data privacy

A Google logo is seen at the entrance to the company's offices in Toronto September 5, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Helgren
A Google logo is seen at the entrance to the company's offices in Toronto September 5, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

PARIS (Reuters) - France's data protection watchdog has fined Google 150,000 euros after the U.S. search engine ignored a three-month ultimatum to bring its practices on tracking and storing user information in line with local law.

The privacy watchdog, known as CNIL, has also ordered Google to post the decision on its google.fr homepage for 48 hours within eight days of being officially notified of the ruling.

At issue was the new approach to user data that Google began in March 2012, in which it consolidated its 60 privacy policies into one and started combining data collected on individual users across its services, including YouTube, Gmail and social network Google+.

It gave users no means to opt out.

"The company does not sufficiently inform its users of the conditions in which their personal data are processed, nor of the purposes of this processing," CNIL said in a statement.

A Google France spokesman told Reuters the company will take note of this decision and consider further action.

"Throughout our talks with CNIL, we have explained our privacy policy and how it allows us to create simpler and more efficient services," he said.

Spain, Britain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have also opened similar cases against Google because the U.S.-based web giant's privacy policy introduced in 2012 does not conform with local rules protecting consumers on how their personal data is processed and stored.

CNIL said the fine is the highest it has issued until now and is justified by the number and the seriousness of the breaches stated in the case.

But the penalties that France and most other EU countries can impose remain small compared with the $10.7 billion net profit that Google earned in 2012.

Spain can impose fines of up to 1 million euros, while the German Data Protection Act caps penalties at 300,000 euros.

There is no legal framework to levy European-wide fines.

In June, CNIL found Google to be in breach of privacy law on six counts, notably that it posted "insufficient" information for French users about how their private browsing data was collected and used.

Google has said that its privacy policy "respects European law".

(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; editing by David Evans)

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